Re-building a wooden block

A comparison between Re-building a wooden block with a standard Harken Ball Bearing Sheave and as an alternative fitting a custom fabricated Harken sheave into an existing block:

Over the past three years we have restored many traditional blocks at Baltic Boat Works – some have come in for a complete re-built while others just needed an upgrade of the inner workings, so here is a little bit of comparative background information:

Usually the condition of a block when it comes to us dictates the direction we are taking – remember that a lot of the wooden blocks we see on classic yachts are in fact old (…”classic”), very often we are looking at Merriman Bros. blocks which are more than 50 years old and have seen a lot of service in harsh conditions. Often these old blocks need more than just a few coats of varnish, so we got into re-building these blocks; and as we are doing this we often slightly alter some dimensions and make everything fit to a standard Harken Ball Bearing sheave.

The majority of the cost when re-building a block is spent on labor and most of that on building the “wooden body” – even though this body has essentially nothing to do with managing the load that the block will see in service. All the load is entered thru the sheave, from there onto the axle and from the axle to the strap – the wooden body sees no load at all and is only there to cover the sheaves, sometimes guide the line and protect the environment.

Here are a few pictures from rebuilding blocks:

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As an alternative to re-building the block completely, especially when we receive blocks which are in good working order with a solid wooden body and solid strapping, we like to take a different route:

All such a block needs is a modern ball bearing sheave with a high load capacity. Very often however the “off the shelve” ball bearings do not fit the existing block perfectly and in these cases we could either rebuilt a block as described above or design and order a custom ball bearing sheave made to the dimensions of the existing block. We are working with Harken which offers the service of building custom sheaves, it usually takes eight weeks for turn around, the custom sheaves are mechanically based on existing designs and therefore utilize proven and tested ball bearing construction.

The prices for custom sheaves vary greatly and mostly depend on

a. material used for the race (anodized AL vs. bronze)
b. size (OD & width)
c. number of sheaves ordered to one design (spreading design & CNC set-up cost)

The installation of a custom made sheave into an existing block however is pretty straight forward and usually only includes some cleaning of the block and axle, new fasteners for the axle plates and very minor adaptions of the wooden cheeks (if at all).

The high cost of the custom sheave is in most cases more than off-set by the “saving” on labor one would have to spend to re-built a block.

Pictures of a block good for custom sheave & Custom Sheave with Bronze Race (LUCIE):

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St. Francis Yacht Club “Yachtsman of the Year”


Matt recently received the Jerome B. White Trophy. A trophy from the St. Francis Yacht Club awarded annually to the St. Francis Yachtsman of the Year. Awarded to William Matthews Brooks for 2014.

Jerome B. White Trophy
The Jerome B. White “Yachtsman of the Year” Trophy

The trophy is awarded each year by the St. Francis Yacht Club’s outgoing Flag Officers at the annual general membership meeting to that member of whatever class of membership in the Club who has made the greatest contribution during the preceding calendar year to the sport of yachting in the broadest sense of the definition of said sport. The Club member thus selected is known as “The St. Francis Yachtsman of the Year.”

Jerome B. White Trophy
Jerome B. White Trophy

Returning home & Winter preparation

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LUCIE is back home in the US after this years trip to the 6 Meter European Championship in Falmouth, UK. She arrived in late August and went straight for the winter hiatus at the shop. But before we are looking at her maintenance and preparation for the 2015 season – which will include a trip to France for the 6 Meter World Championship – we had to do some “house cleaning” to do:

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For the past four years LUCIE has been traveling to Europe every summer and she is doing a lot of miles on her trailer. But no matter how well a trailer is designed, it is always hard for an 80+ year old wooden boat to go over the road. So it was time to upgrade LUCIE’s trailer and add proper transportation berths over the poppets to distribute the load evenly into the hull. These cradles were laminated from 1/4 ply (4 layers) directly onto the hull shape – almost like a fingerprint of the shape. Some trimming, sealing, proper painting, and a nice 1/2″ dense foam on the inside – and now she is resting much better supported on her trailer. Ready for more trips around the world!

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It also was time to do some fairing and cleaning up of her heels – living on a trailer most of the time is convenient but access to the underside of the ballast is very limited. This year it was time to catch up in this area, so LUCIE was lifted off her trailer inside the shop to get us access to her heels… And then some filling, fairing, multiple coats of bottom paint and polishing it all up! Looks as new (basically is…) and then LUCIE went back down onto the trailer.

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And as every year at the end of every season a lot of clean up, re-stocking and inventory was on the program. Traveling far away from home essentially means that one has to prepare and bring pretty much everything potentially needed. And then one needs to be able to find it in a heartbeat during a tight regatta schedule. So every piece of equipment belonging to LUCIE was inventoried, re-sorted, stocked up and put away for the winter, but ready to go in the spring. Every year we are again surprised how many items it needs to successfully campaign a boat like LUCIE…

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So now we are heading for the winter maintenance, painting, some varnishing and probably a few new gadgets – stay tuned.

Jens