Monday, 26 February 2007

A pause

All the pieces that make up the hull, except the deck, have been cut, checked, fitted and given a coat of epoxy. The sole, bilge chines and upper chines, the stem, main and mizzen mast steps, the sternpost, the centreboard and case, bulkheads 1,2 and 3, the intermediate frames and transom. Only one piece refuses to conform, and that’s frame 7. Frame 7 is narrower than its station on the sole, if I built the boat with this frame it would have a waspish waist. Not a positive aesthetic in a boat. I can’t find the source of the error though there undoubtedly is one. However, the source of the mistake is secondary to its solution. And to find the solution I need a clear, uninterrupted week ahead of me. Time to dry run as many times as necessary to get the lacking measurements for the frame and build a new one taking the hull shape as the template. So I’ve dismantled my Trow and stashed its long panels, wrapped in plastic, in a friend’s house, the bench has been tidied away in another and the frames and bulkheads neatly stacked out of sight.

I’ll be away working for a week and when I return this boat gets built.

Eyes on oar blades are a common feature on traditional, lateen rigged, Mediterranean fishing boats, so the Trow’s pampered oars have received two pairs to ward off prying neighbours, the Guardia Civil and other monsters of the deep.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

The moaning chair

This is my moaning chair. It was part of the furniture on a Turkish Gulet that sank in my local marina. The boatyard carpenter, in one of his rare talkative moods, told me that an enterprising young Catalan had sailed the boat from Turkey with the idea of restoring it for charter work. However, he crossed wakes with the Guardia Civil, whose water-based operation is that of coast guard. The GC have their headquarters in the local port and their menacing black, 10 metre RIB with four Honda 250 hp 4 stroke engines on the back is often seen charging back and forth checking boaters' paperwork. A yachtsman who’d been through the unsettling experience told me that the RIB seemed to come out of nowhere such was the speed with which it bore down on his boat and, he went on to say, they wanted to see everything from his ID to the expiry date on his flares. Fortunately everything was in order.

Our enterprising young Catalan friend wasn’t so lucky, according to the carpenter some vital piece of paperwork had been left on the dock in Turkey and the Guardia Civil promptly impounded the Gulet and triumphantly towed it into port. They had to moor the beamy vessel in their own berth, which meant moving their other boat to the fishermen’s quay. We don’t know what became of the young Catalan, whether he tried to track down the lacking paperwork or whether he simply went off and did something else. But back in the port the Gulet found itself in a bureaucratic vacuum and, while the slow wheels of officialdom ground out their dull dirge, long fingers of rot spread through the Gulet’s hull. The Guardia Civil were slightly inconvenienced by the long walk round to the fishermen’s wharf when they needed to use their other boat, but otherwise the situation continued unchanged for 3 years.

Then one day the elderly Gulet, yawing under the weight of bureaucracy, took on water and keeled over crushing the GC’s boat up against the fuel quay. Apparently the Guardia Civil had an awkward job of extricating their boat but eventually they freed it from the grasp of the Gulet’s rigging and rafted it up to their other craft.

The Gulet was now occupying the whole GC berth and it wasn’t long before divers and dockworkers were dismantling the old boat. They smashed the Gulet into workable pieces, which were loaded into two enormous skips, and it was here that I found my chair.

The skip was full of useful boating material, blocks and pullies, ropes, cleats, fairleads and other tempting bits of stainless steel and bronze but most of it irretrievably buried under tons of rotten wood.

I went back on another day and had just detached this mast light when a port official asked me what I was doing. Apparently the Gulet's fate was still being ruminated upon by the courts, everything in the skip was considered official evidence and no one was allowed to take anything. But he said he’d overlook the light seeing that I’d gone to the trouble of unbolting it from the mast.

The whole story left me wondering what might happen to me in my Trow if I was ever pulled over on the waves and asked to show my documents. Wanting to clear the matter up I asked the Guardia Civil where a homemade boat stood within the law.

The short answer was they didn’t know. They handed me a fat file with all the laws printed out and advised me to read it but after one paragraph of the tortuous gobbledegook, my mind fizzled and switched off—couldn’t they just give me a brief resumé? No, because they hadn’t read those bits. They mainly concerned themselves with the laws referring to jet skis and other engine driven craft, as these were the worst offenders, “Imagine.” One of them chirped up, “Going out in your car without your driving licence or insurance or tax. Well these people do the same. They are driving without the papers.” I made disapproving noises and said that I would be using oars and polytarp sails. “Oh, don’t worry then, we won't be stopping you.”

Friday, 23 February 2007

The Man Who Reinvented Himself

I read Ice!
by Tristan Jones many years ago and enjoyed it immensely, I saw Jones as the epitome of the crusty old sea dog, even if I did have some misgivings about his domineering nature and even if some anecdotes were almost too rounded and other statements slightly too sweeping.

The punchy, salty language, powerful and poetic at times, the descriptions of the sea especially in its livelier moods and the craftsmanship with which he wove his yarns captured my imagination.

In Ice! Jones recounts how he left England in 1959 and set out to make the furthest north by a single-handed yachtsman. Travelling with a 3 legged one-eyed labrador, "Nelson" for company he rounds the west of Ireland in foul weather and heads for Iceland.

But on the way, while raising the main sail, the peak halyard block breaks and the gaff crashes down on him. When he comes-to there’s blood all over the deck and his eye is hanging out. He takes it between his fingers and shoves it back into its socket, then sews up the cut in his eyebrow with fishing line, finishing up with a round turn and two half-hitches.

I remember being enthralled, devouring page after page I eagerly followed Jones and "Nelson" on the first single-handed circumnavigation of Iceland and then on to Greenland and the Artic winter.

Jones gets trapped in the Artic ice and has to fight for his life against a hungry polar bear. He eventually fires a flare into the beast’s gaping maw and drives it away. The next year is spent in solitude stuck in the ice as Jones hopes that the drifting pack will take him to the highest latitude achieved by a solo-manned craft. But his boat "Cresswell" is nearly crushed by a collapsing iceberg. And so the breath taking adventures continue: but with one flaw—they are not autobiographical fact as Jones claimed, but fiction.

Anthony Dalton revealed the fraud behind Jones’ books in 2003 with his biography The Wayward Sailor. A fan of Jones’ Dalton embarked on the routine research for the biography in 1999, he interviewed acquaintances, dug up logbooks and records and travelled to many of the places that Jones had supposedly been. But the research didn’t add up, records didn’t tally with events and what had started as a straightforward biography became an odyssey for Dalton as he tried to uncover the truth behind Tristan Jones.

The real story is also a fascinating one. Whereas the Tristan Jones of the stories was born on his father’s tramp steamer somewhere off Tristan da Cunha, Arthur Jones was born illegitimately to a working class girl in Lancashire. He joined the royal navy in 1946, too late to see the World War 2 action that he so graphically recreates in the books. Out of the navy after an unremarkable career he smuggled whisky across the channel before drifting to, what was then, the Mediterranean backwater of Ibiza. Here he earned himself a hard drinker’s label and a handful of scars.

Down on his luck and facing an uninspiring future he decided to invent a past for himself that would put his name in the record books. He shut himself away and wrote six supposedly autobiographical accounts in three years, with an accomplished prose style that won him scores of fans and pots of money.

His left leg was amputated in the early 80’s but he continued trying to live the life he had invented. Then after a second amputation he settled in Thailand. Increasingly bitter he died in 1995.

Knowing the story of Jones makes his books slightly less compelling, whereas before his bravery and audacity in the face of danger had me turning the pages, now I turn the same pages, albeit rather more slowly, for the choice lines and descriptions. Lines like “After nine pints and two orgasms we returned to the boat.” Or, talking about how his boat Cresswell, an ex RNLI craft, handles bad weather, “The old girl is as happy as a pig in shit out there. She’s a cow in breezes or light winds, but, Jesus, she’ll wear out the hammers of hell in blow.”

The invented Jones is as salty as they come.

Here’s an interesting story from Ron Riel who sold Jones Sea Dart, the boat that would feature in most of the adventures.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Paint and Varnish

I suppose all boat builders, at some stage, entertain the romantic fantasy of topping off their fine workmanship with nothing more than a dozen coats of well-applied varnish: no paint and no colours other than unblemished wood, gleaming under a crystal gloss, reflecting the clear cut faces of swarming admirers. And, I suppose there comes a time during the build when, after one slip with the chisel and another with the sander, plus a split cup of coffee and a rampant child with a felt-tipped pen, that the builder decides that it would probably be better to paint the lot. That way he can get on with the work and stop being so precious about the finish.

Speaking from experience it comes as something of a relief.

In the beginning I thought I would paint—a traditional black hull, a varnished deck, and maybe dark red under the waterline, which my Trow could flash, as cheekily as women showed garters in 50’s pin-ups, as it took up the gust and stood bravely to windward. But then I discovered that black doesn’t suit boats built with epoxy. It absorbs the UV rays, which weaken the resin. So I put the whole business on the back burner and got on with the building, but to my surprise it was all looking quite tidy and I started to entertain varnish fantasies—I would do the whole boat in varnish, my Trow would rival a Riva for depth of finish. It would be glossier than the glaze on glistening fruit pies in the window of my local pasteleria and would provoke the same surge of saliva to the mouth and a similar torrent of alliterative praise. Precious, priceless, princely…

Thank heaven that’s all behind me. The first coat of epoxy got rained on and turned white. Ok, so I sanded it back and repainted a thin coat with the roller, yes I have learnt how to apply epoxy, then I constructed a plastic tent for the panels to sit under during the night. It didn’t rain and the garden was dry in the morning. The inside of the tent, however, was as damp as a tropical rainforest, the panels were covered in beads of water and drips that weren’t dropping directly onto the curing epoxy were squiggling down the sides of the plastic to form pools under the panels. It looked as if the entire dewfall had gathered under the plastic sheet. I can only suppose that I’d put some physical process into gear—maybe the inside of the plastic had a charge of negative ions which attracted the neutral or positively charged water droplets, whatever, they all crowded in and had quite a party.

Here are the panels with their second coat. and here’s the steamy scene under the plastic sheet.

With all the frames and the two bilge panels assembled, cut and epoxied I couldn’t resist a dry run.

It all went together very easily with just a handful of screws. And it was straight; well at least to my eye.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Batten and balls up

This is the scarf joint seen from the side. You can make out the wodge of epoxy in there. It's a bit messy and not 100% true, but it's strong and will suffice. With the ply sheets joined I marked up the side panels then lay a batten across the marks to determine the lines of the chine. I drew in the long sweeping curves and then, after some routine dithering, I cut out the panels.

The batten in the picture is not my original batten so kindly donated by Mr Mushroom, which I mentioned in an earlier post. That batten, I’m afraid, was victim to a curious habit of mine—that of discovering a mistake then rushing willy-nilly to rectify the error in the wildly mistaken hope that if I do it quickly enough neither I nor anyone else will notice.

In this case I’d made the centreboard 1cm shorter than drawn by reading 47.6 as 46.7(it’s sad I know) and, desperate to cover up my blunder, I rifled the pile of scrap wood for something suitable to make a 1cm laminate on the leading edge of the centreboard. When nothing came to hand I turned my possessed gaze towards the batten, my clean, even grained 5 metre batten and before you could say “Why not go inside and check the measurements on the computer?” I’d sliced off 110 cm and was busy trying to glue it on to the centreboard taking furtive glances over my shoulder to check that no one was witnessing my spontaneous impersonation of a headless chicken. When I finally relaxed and went inside for a cuppa, feeling quite pleased with myself I checked the measurements on the computer. The lines came up on the screen and then, like the man who, even as he executes a perfect dive, realizes that he’s also losing his shorts I spluttered tea all over the floor and dashed outside to prise off the laminate before the epoxy set. The correct measurement was 46.7. I’d made an error and written down 47.6 when I transferred the measurements from the screen to my notebook in the first place. Then I’d read the number incorrectly and so undone the original mistake.

With the sticky remains of the batten in my hands I shuddered at the thought of other errors that my curious double dyslexia/dementia might be working into the boat. Maybe it’s time for the plums and cheese.

The cut panels received a coat of epoxy. And the curing coat of epoxy received several litres of water in the form of a Mediterranean downpour during the night. The Heath-Robinson oxygen tent that I’d hurriedly constructed in the dark kept the worst off but the panels will have to be sanded back and recoated.

I cleaned up the centreboard case. This photo is before sanding.

And this one 5 minutes later.

Unhygenix came by just as I was tiding up and did his usual thing of picking through my tools as if he was at a flea market, I was just about to warn him to be careful with the belt-sander (really I was) when he switched it on. I couldn’t restrain a smile as Bertie bolted across the workbench like a racehorse with mustard on his tucus.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Northwesterly force 7 to 8

The plan was to glue the scarf joints yesterday but it was too windy. The thought of taking a ply sheet from where it’s stacked, in a small covered terrace, and transferring it to the workbench, brought to mind images of disaster.

I know what it can be like carrying a windsurfing sail to the beach, get the wind underneath it and you’re off like a dandelion seed, or worse show the leech to the prevailing breeze and the sail, suddenly transformed into a black belt judo expert, can flip over and pin you to the ground. It once happened to me while crossing a road; I had to negotiate a lamppost, a skip and a narrow gap between parked cars to access a zebra crossing. Turning this way and that in the strong wind a gust caught the leech. The sail flipped forcing me out on to the road and then wrestled me to my knees, I grinned at the po-faced occupants of a patiently waiting 4x4 then struggled to my feet but, like an excited child, the sail hauled me off into the cars parked on the other side of the road. I just had time to bark my shins before the rig, with the wind underneath it, tried to wrench me skyward. But before I got airborne the gust diminished depositing me back in front of the 4x4, which had started to pull forward. The driver, alarmed that a rubber-clad weirdo was trying to bullfight his car with a windsurfing rig, gave a blast on his horn, which, in true Spanish fashion, was taken up enthusiastically by the queue of cars behind. Taking advantage of the lull in the wind I made a sheepish retreat to a cacophony of blaring claxons.

My windsurfing has improved a lot since then and so have my sail carrying skills and while I can apply those skills to transporting ply sheets I didn’t want to risk being whisked off to the other end of the garden where Chief Vitalstatistix was hobnobbing with a glut of Barcelona bigwigs. And I certainly didn’t want to damage those fragile tapers.

I think it’s in one of the Coen brothers’ films that a character says there’s no image more undignified than a man chasing his hat—I reckon that a man chasing a cartwheeling sheet of ply probably tops that.

And today more wind. This is the Mestral that I wrote about a few posts back, bright, clean and energetic it sweeps across Northeast Spain never failing to instil me with a certain larkiness that I associate, even all these years later, with the last day of term. I could have gone windsurfing but apart from being short of time I’ve been investing quite heavily in my midriff over the past couple of months and I doubt I would fit into my wetsuit.

I was more than happy to get on with oars, which have been stacked in a corner turning yellow for quite some time now. Planed and sanded down to their final shape they’re actually quite slim and elegant; I just hope they’re not too light for the important role of powering me out through the waves to calmer waters where I can hoist the sails.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

And then it was Saturday again

I haven’t touched the project for a week so it was a joy to fill the lungs with some strong smelling epoxy dust, (my work clothes are impregnated with the stuff) and get out there to tackle those tapers for the scarf joints. I did them one by one, you might even say painstakingly, and then came in to find this link at . Here Mack Horton does all his tapers in one go, a neat idea. Scroll down the page for some tidy workmanship. My tapers are not absolutely perfect—raucous behaviour from Bertie belt-sander I’m afraid—so I hope a generous buttering of cure-all goop will fill any gaps.

As always my antics in the workshop attracted a few inquisitive passers-by; I patiently fended off their enquires. The general line now seems to be, “It’s taking you a long time.” And yes, I suppose it is. I started nearly two months ago and I’ve spent most of my free daylight hours on the project, as my family will testify.

I would like to think I’m getting near the half way mark, but I’ve no way of knowing. The boat will suddenly come together when the side panels and sole go on. They say that building a boat is half construction and half sanding, with sail making taking up another half. The bulk of the sanding will be done fairing the hull, and sail making will be another adventure into unknown territory. But I won’t be able to resist launching the trow as a rowing boat probably even before fitting the deck. So maybe that moment isn’t too far away.

Later a group of children posed some interesting questions;

“Will it float?”

“What will you do about sharks?”

“Are you a pirate?”

“Can we come too?”

Interesting because these are all questions that have been asked at some point by adults.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Drag, lift and trim

I came across this picture the other day. It illustrates that while a designer can sweat over formulae concerning lift and drag, all his hard work can come to nought if the boat isn’t trimmed properly.

Trim is about distributing weight around the centre of buoyancy. But if the client—who is always right—takes the choice seat with backrest then the skipper has his work cut out for him. This one has sent the crew up to the bows and told him to act heavy, the crew’s up there looking rather unsteady and wishing he’d had that second portion of paella at lunchtime.

Of the 3 passengers one is barely containing his mirth, the other’s rummaging for his camera while the third, unaware of how he’s affecting the trim and worrying the skipper, is wondering what the skinny guy on the bows is doing. The skipper, knowing that the boat is only staying afloat due to its forward movement, must be opening the throttle and hoping that he can power the boat out of its hole and on to the plane.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Plums and cheese

Saturday’s not the easiest day on which to make headway. There are too many people about, down from Barcelona to enjoy their holiday homes. There’s one particular bloke who likes to buzz about my bench, picking up tools, dipping a finger in a tin of screws and having a stir, all the while making garrulous conversation, which he compels me to listen to by nudging my arm every time I look back to the work in hand. “Going fishing then are you? That other boat you got too small? (He means the windsurfer) I went on one of those once, only it was much bigger, big enough for 4.” He’s knowledgeable about vegetable gardens but boats are out of his realm. I suppose if this were a village of indomitable Gauls he’d be Unhygenix the fishmonger, not that he has anything to do with fish, it’s just that I'd quite like to hit him with one.

Finished shaping the centreboard and gave a 4th coat of epoxy to the case cheeks to rectify the dreadful finish. I think I’ve been trying to put off the moment when I scarf the side panels, so I finally buckled down and started on them feeling that I’d quite like the benevolent ghost of some old shipwright standing behind me to guide my trembling hand.

Rather like Joshua Slocum recounts in Sailing Alone Aound the World.

While crossing the Atlantic Slocum polished off a load of plums and cheese and by nightfall he was doubled up in pain. With the wind rising he managed to reef the sails and then he threw himself down on the cabin floor and became delirious. The storm intensified and when Slocum came-to, his boat, Spray, was plunging in the heavy seas. But looking out of the companionway he was surprised to see a tall dark man standing at the helm dressed in old-fashioned clothes. At first Joshua thought it was a pirate come to cut his throat but the stranger introduced himself as one of Columbus’s crew, the pilot of the Pinta, and said that he’d guide the boat through the storm. Slocum and the pilot had a surreal conversation in which Joshua received a telling off, “You did wrong, Captain, to mix cheese with plums.” Slocum returned to his bed but was kept awake by the pilot’s singing. He had the strength to shout out, “I detest your jingle.” And went back to sleep. When he woke it was broad daylight, the wind was still strong and Spray was heading as he had left her and “going like a racehorse.” The boat had done 90 miles throughout the night. Slocum was impressed; “Columbus himself could not have held her more exactly on her course.” He felt extremely grateful to the old pilot but, “I marvelled some that he had not taken in the jib.”

Later the pilot came to Joshua in a dream saying, “I should like to be with you often on the voyage, for the love of adventure alone.” And when Slocum recovered he threw all the plums overboard.

If I get myself into trouble with these joints I’ll try OD-ing on plums and cheese, see if I can’t evoke the ghost of the Pinta’s shipwright.