Light painting and my Penobscot 14 daysailer Missee Lee

March 08, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Light painting. Hand planes and wood shavings.Light painting. Hand planes and wood shavings. Been doing some more light painting this winter and having a lot of fun with it. In these two images I set up three hand planes I used while building my wooden daysailer Missee Lee. Shaving and shaping wood with a hand plane is very rewarding, though you may find yourself swimming in a sea of wood shavings if you can’t stop. 

Swimming in wood shavings as the mast is taking shape.Swimming in wood shavings as the mast is taking shape. Dave Black introduced me to the art of light painting while attending the Summit Nature Photography Workshop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in September 2017. I am glad he did because it’s another branch of photography that I didn’t know anything about and as it turns out it’s very exiting and rewarding. Dave teaches light painting done in one exposure. Other methods involve multiple Light painting 2. Hand planes and wood shavings.Light painting 2. Hand planes and wood shavings. exposures and then combining them in Photoshop. I like Dave’s method best. It’s intense, a 20-30 second exposure, and you have to be quick to ‘paint your canvas’ using different lights, angles and colors and experiment with multiple focus settings. No two images are the same.

Missed Lee was my first attempt at building a boat and it was a bit of a gamble. “Would I be able to finish her and would she turn out to be beautiful”? Working with wood was a radical change from my regular workday which involved sitting in front of a computer and producing graphics. I enjoyed being on the water since the early 80s and spent time sailing fiberglass boats. In time I developed an appreciation and admiration for wooden sailboats. A long history of beautiful classic and timeless lines rich in tradition. As I read about naval architects and their designs, about methods of building and lumber selection, wooden-boat building projects by professionals and amateurs, sailing adventures in my local waters or in Maine or in the South Pacific, all those things built in me the desire to have a wooden boat in my life. Building one myself would be even more exiting, rewarding and of course challenging. The inspiration to build Missee Lee came from a few sources. Reading a lot of Woodenboat magazines provided some technical knowledge and Great reads, for young and not so young.Great reads, for young and not so young. inspiration. Another was reading British author Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series of children's books about the school-holiday adventures of children in small wooden sailboats, mostly in the Lake District mountainous region of North West England taking place between the two World Wars. Those inspired the heart, soul and imagination. The name Missee Lee comes from Arthur Randsome’s book by the same name. Missee Lee was the chief taicoon over the Three Islands in the China Sea. She was the daughter of the pirate who united the islands and she held the rank of ‘twenty-two gong taicoon’.

Upside down on the building jig.Upside down on the building jig. So in 2005, with some hesitation, I made the decision to go ahead and fulfill my dream to build my own wooden boat. In the end I chose the Penobscot 14 daysailer designed by naval architect Arch Davis out of Maine. She had the sweet lines of a Whitehall, hull material is out of African okoume plywood, sitka spruce for the mast and boom, oak for the keel, ash for the gunwales and yellow pine for the seats. Space in my garage would accommodate the building process and she promised to be easy to handle and sail. From my estimates I figured that she would take one year or so of weekend building and cost a reasonable sum. As it turned out she took twice as long and cost twice as much as originally estimated. Well, that was a good thing since the enjoyment was doubled.

Bare and beautiful.Bare and beautiful. I ordered the plans and started from scratch. It was a challenge for the mind and hand to work from a set of plans on paper and transfer those figures to wood on a building jig. Learning to work with new tools (some hand, others power), special glues, marine hardware, mixing and applying epoxy, making sure everything fits just right, measuring three times and cutting once (there are no square angles in a boat), shaping a long square block of wood to make the round shaped mast, boom and gaff for the rig. I could go on with the building details but that is a much longer story for another time. I am also very very happy that I still have all my fingers.

Missee Lee makes it out of the building space.Missee Lee makes it out of the building space. Missee Lee turned out beautifully. I went through a couple of rough spots during construction and I only called the architect once to clarify an issue. There was so much pleasure and enjoyment in working with wood. The feel and smell, the sound, the heart, the look. The hardest part didn’t involve wood. It was working with epoxy (nasty odor and vapors) and specifically applying the clear epoxy to the inside of the boat to achieve the beautiful look of clear varnished wood. She turned out to be a sweet sailer, loved a breeze in the 5-10 knot range, left a thin and smooth wake behind her and made a soothing sound as she parted the water. 

At the dock awaiting departure.At the dock awaiting departure. I spent many days sailing her on Oyster Bay on the north side of Long Island and the Great South Bay on the south side. Only the wind pushing or pulling her along. When the wind died I picked up the oars. She was a daysailer 14 feet long and had good room for two adults and a child. More than that she would run out of space. I enjoyed sailing her for a few seasons since the launch in 2007. As the years went along, I sailed her fewer times for one reason or another. Sailboats are meant be sailed and not sit idle at the dock, on a mooring or in storage. My friend suggested to transform her into a coffee table. Actually not a bad idea for a boat retirement, and I could still have her every day year round. Unfortunately my living room is not that big. 

Heading out for the day.Heading out for the day. So I sold her to a family from New Jersey with young children who wanted to move up to a ‘bigger’ boat. They told me they had a lot of fun sailing her and got  many complements on the construction and finish of the boat. Wooden boats don’t last as long as fiberglass or steel boats. In time they start to rot. A wooden boat has a soul. A wooden boat is made from organic, once living trees, by hand, each one unique and special in her own way with a good story about how she began life. And in the last chapter, returning back in the earth completing the circle of her life. 

I’ll always have fond memories of building Missee Lee and will dearly miss those warm carefree breezy days on Long Island Sound when I was sailing free with the wind with no Sailing out of Oyster Bay, Long Island SoundSailing out of Oyster Bay, Long Island Sound destination for the day, dropping anchor for a relaxed drink and lunch, taking a nap in the afternoon and getting back to the dock as the evening breeze died and the sun set. 

Wherever you are Missee Lee, may you always have wind in your sails and a hand's breadth of water under your keel!

“The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.” 

– Arthur Ransome



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