Skip to main content
Lightning Class Association
HomeBe Seated

Be Seated, Please

Let's talk today about some of the dilemmas a skipper faces when planning the rig of a new-old boat like Plug Nickel.

But first, just let me quickly mention something that's been bothering me.  I'm wondering if maybe "Plug Nickel" is not the most apt name for my wooden Lightning.

How about ADD?

For "attention deficit disorder."

Take it from me, anyone who buys a sailboat hull and plans to equip it with mast, boom, sails, centerboard, rudder, hardware, hardware, hardware, had best reflect on what else he or she is getting with that stripped-clean hull: A passle of sidetracks. Diversions. Little sideshows that can, if you're not careful, overwhelm and dwarf the original project.

I've mentioned that I was lucky enough to possess such necessities as a stainless steel centerboard, and I bought not one, but two, yes, count them, oval Bryant masts. Second-hand, of course. I didn't have a boom, but why sweat the small stuff?  Through an ad in the Flashes, I was acquiring various hardware, almost new sails, a selection of rudders. I now have a new Nickels trailer for the boat and my choice of cockpit, trailing and full-hull mooring covers. There are rewards to being a scrounge.

One thing I didn't have was the sort of thing it's easy to set aside, mentally. Seats. I mean, who thinks about seats when you're busy trying to bludgeon an inch and a half of stubborn plastic off your hull because it was originally used to shape fiberglass molds?

But last year, when I delivered the finished, freshly painted hull to Nickels Boat Works in Fenton, it occurred to me that sailing this boat, even if it were fully equipped with the latest rigging and sails, would not be very comfortable without seats.

And seating was an amenity which this boat did not have.

Remember, it was the last woody Nickels & Holman made before they switched production to glass boats. They planned to use it as a plug, or male mold, for making female molds. They were not planning to mold the seats. 
I remember last year pulling out my ILCA blueprints of the Lightning and finding no plans for seats. I called Dave Nickels for advice and learned that no plans remain for the Nickels & Holman wooden Lightning seats.  Now a real woodworker would not have seen this as a problem. Your real woodworker would simply have made some measurements and drawn up his or her own plans.

But I am a sometime woodworker, a guy who worked a few months in a woodshop as a belt sander many years ago. A guy who doesn't have the foggiest idea how to go about making plans for seats.

I tried to imagine sailing Plug Nickel without seats. I couldn't imagine my wife getting aboard, let alone taking a seat not to be had.  

Then I saw the ad in Flashes. It was placed by Craig Kvalle of Cleveland. I remembered Craig. He'd offered to sell me his race-rigged Nickels & Holman # 6279 a couple years back and in a moment of clear-headed sanity I'd declined. What would I do with a second wooden Lightning when I was overloaded trying to restore the first one? Craig had sent me photos showing a pretty dark green boat on a trailer with a natural transom, oval mast and boom, but I didn't bite.

Something about the ad last fall triggered my mad desire to own this boat. I made the call, found that Craig was in a hurry to get rid of it. For $500, he would deliver it to my warehouse in Plymouth. There were little extras: The original wooden boom, though the wooden mast was long gone. Sails for the original wooden rig as well as fairly fresh modern sails. A nice cover which it turned out would need $70 in repairs. And a pretty decent trailer. 

Now here is what clinched it. This boat, I reasoned, is a Nickels & Holman with the same seats as my plug. Forget drawing plans. Just pull the seats from this boat and use them as patterns.   
Problem solved!

Carried forward by the power of my own impeccable logic, I agreed to buy this old woody.

Now, you see what I mean about diversions? No?

Well consider—it's one more boat that needs to be licensed. Needs to be cared for in terms of protecting it from rain. The very nice cover turned out to have a weak spot which I felt obliged to have repaired. And running my eyes over the rig, I can't help but feel this boat deserves to have a traditional wood or at least square aluminum track mast instead of the modern oval aluminum spar. As I identify with the latest boat, new projects appear. Time and money are diverted from Plug Nickel.

But you can't deny that one thing this boat has is the original seats.

What it didn't have was a name. At first, I was calling it the "Five Hundred," in an effort to emphasize to me and my wife how cheap it was. I have to admit that it was some weeks after I bought this boat that I finally admitted to Karen what I'd done.

I've decided, finally, to use her name: "Dumb Ass Idea."

With Plug Nickel waiting in Fenton to have hardware installed, by late fall there wasn't much I could do on the project. So I carefully unscrewed the seats from Dumb Ass Idea, measured the pieces and drove to Milford, MI where I bought some beautiful Honduran mahogany from a dealer called Armstrong Millworks. Now I needed a way to cut the mahogany. At Armstrong, they recommended a used tool dealer in Holly, MI.

This is where the really serious ADD comes in. Impelled by the feeling that I needed a tool to properly cut the expensive mahogany I'd just bought, I visited the tool dealer and wound up buying a Delta 14-inch industrial bandsaw. At the dealer's urging, I decided to spend some time last winter dismantling the saw, stripping layers of paint and re-painting it industrial gray. While I still believe it's a far finer tool than I could buy from a new equipment dealer, the day-long restoration project the dealer outlined for me turned out to be a gross underestimate. Now re-painted, the saw is ready to be re-assembled, but it was not ready when I wanted to cut my mahogany for the seats last spring. To tell you the truth, it still is not assembled six months later.

So guess what: I pulled out my trusty saber saw, which I had all along, and did the job as I could have done it last fall without buying a bandsaw.  Do I regret the bandsaw? No. It's a fine tool that will cut either metal or wood and one I could not have afforded to buy new.

As to the seats, that project was very satisfying. I got great pleasure from rough cutting the seats with my saber saw. Then I used the original seats as a guide and with a straight router bit I fine cut the new wood with the router by using the cutter bearing to follow the old seat while the blade formed the shape of the new seat. I used the router again to make a curve on the top and bottom edges of the seats where legs won't like sharp edges. Last fall, I tried the original seats in Plug Nickel, and they worked fine with one exception. The forward parts of the seats where they cross the cockpit and butt against the centerboard trunk have ears or tails on the old boat. On my newer boat, a pair of vertical seat braces leaves no room for the tails. I forgot that detail because there was a months-long delay between the original fitting last fall and my cutting efforts in May. So, while my new seats fit perfectly in the old boat, they are not quire correct for the Plug. Minor corrections will be needed.

More serious, I discovered that I have cut two small stern pieces so the grain would run perpendicular to the keel. Dave Nickels warned me these pieces are inherently weak and could break.

So I have to re-cut those small pieces, and guess what: I don't have quite enough wood for the very last piece.

The long part of the seat. At ster in middle are two pieces which were then unrouted. Those are the pieces I mistakenly cut with the grain at right angles to the keel. Wrong. Weak. Could break Do it over right.

Seats at stern, including cut center pieces not yet routed or sanded.

The forward part of the seat.  Wood is 3/4 inch thick Honduran mahogany (should have been 5/8, but hated to destroy the wood).  Note the ear which fits fine on this boat, #6279.  The ear must be removed for use in Plug Nickel.
What to do?

No, I'm not making another trip to Armstrong Millworks.

That would be a sidetrack.

I'll just glue and clamp two pieces of mahogany and be done with it.

Enough about seats. Who cares about seats, anyway?

Let's see, we were going to talk about rigging ...

Joel Thurtell
11803 Priscilla Lane
Plymouth, MI 48170
1-734-454-1890 1-734-454-4666

Sponsor Number URL address
Sponsor 1
Sponsor 2
Sponsor 3
Sponsor 4
Sponsor 5
Sponsor 6
Sponsor 7
Sponsor 8
Sponsor 9
Sponsor 10

Lightning Class Supporters