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Editor’s Log – The Bucking Iron Stops Here

The Editor hard at work
The Editor hard at work

What a crazy few months. I can’t open my mailbox without news of yet another regatta and the thrilling exploits of those who take their pleasure on the race course. Looking for a word to sum it up, I would say ‘evolving’ fits the bill.

Regattas are being forced to change with the times and driving the changes are the competitors themselves. With bigger and faster boats, often sailed by professional crews, many regattas are struggling to keep pace. For some yacht clubs and governing bodies, trying to keep up with the competition from other islands and the amount of cash they can pump into a regatta, is becoming a major challenge. And some see it as a backwards step.

Competitive yacht racing has always been expensive. You expect millions of dollars to be spent on organizing the Americas Cup and the big offshore campaigns such as the Vendee Globe and Volvo Ocean Race, but you don’t expected to see such big budgets in the Caribbean.

Have regatta organizers created a monster? The answer to that is yes, in part, they have. Big, well funded regattas, like squalls that roar across the water taking all the wind with them, leave not a breath for the smaller regattas and some have been cancelled this season.

It’s not all full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. Some regattas, having successfully attracted the sailing ‘rock stars’ they craved, are now looking at ways to get more grassroots sailors to take part by introducing ‘open’ classes. In changing times, these regattas lead the way.

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In this edition, Susan Zaluski describes the building of a traditional ‘Tortola’ boat on Jost Van Dyke (page?). Wooden boat building is something that is dear to my heart as I once made my living building and repairing wooden boats. When I worked as a shipwright, wooden boat building was seen as a dying art and one that was almost impossible to learn. Since then there has been a renaissance in wooden boat building and boat building schools are all the rage.  Some companies are even offering apprenticeships.

Jan, my wife, was my apprentice and she was the only one I would trust with the bucking iron. For the uninitiated, a bucking iron is a large metal cylinder, weighing about ten pounds, with a small nipple embedded in one end. Posh bucking irons have a butt like a rifle that fits against your shoulder. This makes it more comfortable to use. We had the poor mans version, which you held in two hands. A bucking iron is used for hanging planks. The shipwright outside the boat (Jan) drives a copper rivet through a pre-drilled hole in the plank and frame and then holds the nipple of the bucking iron against the head of the rivet. Inside the hull, the other shipwright then places a rove (a copper washer) over the inboard end of the rivet and using a small hollow metal tube, drives the rove down the rivet until it is snug against the frame. Then the fun starts.

Using a ball pein hammer, the shipwright inside peins over the rivet as his mate, on the outside, holds the nipple tight against the head of the rivet and throws all their weight behind the bucking iron.

The shape of the hull dictates the stance taken by the one holding the bucking iron. Some planks are high on the hull while others are low down forcing you to kneel or lay on your back in the mud. After a few days and a several planks, my wife grew to hate the bucking iron and slightly altered its name.

I would have changed places with her, but then you have never seen my wife use a hammer, and dents in my new planking and frames would have made me cry.

When I moved from repairing wooden boats to (gulp) plastic, like any good shipwright, I took my collection of specialized tool with me. I have my caulking irons and mallets, seaming tools and caulking rakes.

Jan never told me what she did with her bucking iron …

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