Back to Building Again

Human things seem to be made to break, some sooner, some later, but eventually all of them do. If you happen to be an optimist, those are times of opportunities. They provide you with chances for making improvements to those things while you repair or rebuild them. One of the major challenges when building Aluna way back when was the difficulty to imagine the precise use and the corresponding structural needs for many of the details on the build. After having been out there with our vessel in the big and wild blue and having had to suffer through every one of its shortcomings, it’s much easier to come up with ideas for design and engineering improvements.

Alunita, our tender and by birthright a Gary Dierking outrigger canoe, while being a very sturdy means of getting to and from our ship for the last couple years, has also been a bit of a headache in many ways. It’s ama, which is the Hawaiian name for an outrigger canoe’s stabilizing float, was just marginally efficient in stabilizing the craft. While heavy enough to prevent a capsize to starboard, it could be easily driven under water when leaning on it or when sailing with wind on the opposite side. On top of it, this ama, which was no more than a log of heavy wood with successive coats of desperate paint slapped on it at various times, had become quite waterlogged and worm-infested over the last year or two. Then a week after arriving here in the Bay of Islands back in December in the chop of a nasty Southwesterly the aft iako, one of the beams that connect the float to the hull, broke just where it attaches to the ama while the canoe was being banged about while tied to Aluna’s side. It was clear now that there was yet another building project firmly established at the top of our ever-swelling list of maintenance chores.

With time being of the essence I decided to build from a plan, which is always faster than coming up with your own design. Gary Dierking in his excellent book Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes proposes to build an ama out of thin plywood by making an elongated box float on one of its edges as a keel and with the two ends drawn upwards forming a perfect canoe shape. The first order of the day then, as soon as I was back up here in the Bay from our stint into the urban wasteland, was to procure a good sheet of 4mm plywood. Ever helpful Tony had volunteered to drive me around for the shopping spree. As much as I would have liked to get a sheet of certified marine ply, this proved to be wishful thinking in the lonesome backwaters of economically depressed and politically abandoned Northland. After some searching in the area’s building supply stores I had to content with interior ply, fortunately enough one with a very smooth finish. I knew I would have to be generous with the epoxy on it, so as to make sure there could be no possibility whatsoever of water infiltrating into the wood.

Remembering what I didn’t do during the building of Aluna, I gave the whole sheet of plywood a good epoxy coating on both sides, before even thinking of cutting it up. This is a hundred times faster than laboriously having to coat every piece of the build. The finished ama was supposed to be 3.6m long, one and a half time the length of the sheet, so each side panel had to be scarfed. Four 15cm wide panels were soon cut out and five square bulkheads, also with 15cm sides. Two each of the former were glued together at right angles to make the top and bottom half of the ama. I then made up two little stands for the future float to sit in upright.

ama b 03 ama b 02 ama b 01 ama a 4 ama a 3 ama a 2 ama a 1At this stage it was necessary to bring to a definite end the long nagging haggling about which connection method I was going to use to join the new ama to the iakos. The outrigger canoe’s float is essential to the stability of this craft and you don’t want to lose it once you’re underway on the water. This connection has been the subject of intense studies over the many years since the Europeans had first ventured into the vast waters of the Pacific and with wide eyes had to acknowledge a shockingly abysmal inferiority in their naval technology. Depending on which region of the world you’re in you’ll find a whole range of ways this engineering problem has been tackled. From a direct connection to a iako that is bent into a down-sloping curve to touch the ama directly as used for instance in Hawai’i, to all kinds of arrangements with a number of sticks that distribute the substantial load on the joint, to the clever ‘quick connect’ method used in the Marquesas, there are hundreds more variation on the theme.

ama a 5 ama b 04 ama b 05 ama b 06 ama b 07 ama b 08 ama b 09Having a second look at the broken iako I was again amazed at the lightness and sturdiness of these natural branches. There was no sense in building new iakos, I mused, there must be a way to bring these trusted pieces of equipment back up to specs! An hour or two of sanding later the worn and tired old iakos were stripped to the bare wood, with the nice, light beige color of their wood making me think that they had just been picked up on some azure blue beach up in the tropics. Obviously, since one had its end broken off, the distance of the ama to the canoe was going to have to be reduced a bit. Their downward bend brought me to favor the Marquesan style connection, which is precisely what Gary proposes in his book. Once again the ease of working with plans had gained the upper hand!

ama b 10 ama b 16 ama b 15 ama b 14 ama b 13 ama b 12 ama b 11Two slim boards are inserted into the top of the ama with a slight slant towards the canoe. Holes are drilled into these boards a couple of inches above from where they emerge from the amas. Pegs inserted into the ends of the iakos enter into these holes and the top end of the board is then pulled towards the canoe with a rope lashing. This effectively locks the two parts together while allowing for the slight flexibility needed by any multihull craft busy with finding her wavy way across the waters of the world.

Pretty straightforward kind of stuff, really, but as usual, the devil happily resides in the details. Once the basic shape was assembled it had to be faired, then glassed, faired again, then sanded, then faired a little more and then sanded a little more, primed, sanded even more and finally two coats of enamel paint had to be applied.  Soon enough, after a fair bit of patience and persistence our canoe was reassembled and could be carried to the water for a first testing the new setup.

ama b 17 ama b 20 ama b 19 ama b 18The re-launch was done without too much fuss at the boat ramp just South of the Opua Marina’s F-Dock. That’s always a choppy stretch of water, especially when the tidal currents run at their fullest. I paddled out into the wacky waves and it felt good. A little wiggling and waggling though made it clear that the reincarnation of Alunita was a wee bit tippy to port. The weight of the new ama was obviously much less then the old log from before. And as it turned out my guess at the height of the hole where the pegs enter the boards sticking out of the ama had been a good bit too high. Just as well I had saved the plugs from when I had cut those out! The next day the ama returned to the shop to glue those plugs back in to the existing holes and to drill new ones about two inches further down, just above where the struts exit the body of the ama in fact. In addition I shaved some wood from underneath the little supports where the iako is lashed to the hull on the opposite side of the ama. In reality the hull of the canoe has to lean quite a bit towards the ama when floating empty, so that when sinking lower once fully loaded it will end up sitting about vertical.

ama b 21 ama b 24 ama b 23 ama b 22Two days later all the pieces wandered back to the beach for the launch of version 2.0. This time all went smooth and Alunita was finally back in business. She is now much more stable towards the ama side, the new one providing ample floatation. You can lean out and put your weight onto the iakos without pushing the ama underwater as used to happen before.

Check! First item off the list! Next in line are Mama Aluna’s new mainsail spars, the giant bamboo sticks that have been slowly drying over the winter under Tony’s porch. Tomorrow we’ll go and check up on them!

5 Responses to “Back to Building Again”

  1. Bob Bois Says:

    Hi Beat and Beatriz!
    The tender looks great and I am so happy you guys are out there adventuring, growing, writing, thinking, and sailing. Although I haven’t commented in a while I follow each of your posts with great interest. Take good care, and be well. Bob

  2. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    Alunita looks so cool now!!!

  3. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    Check the news from Aluna!!!!!

  4. best island in thailand for backpackers Says:

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    Back to Building Again | Aluna’s Travel the World Blog

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