Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Summertime, and the consequences of not doing the maintenance while the winter weather prevented sailing.


Being summertime here, I’m pining for the Fiords .  Oops, not quite. Monty Python has a lot to answer for.  Really though I’m wanting to go sailing, cruising in a boat that has enough space in its cabin to be halfway comfortable, in a boat capable enough to do some exploring, and which pleases me to own.

I bought the little gaff sloop “May” some years ago, sailed her quite a lot for a while before moving aboard my ship.  Life got busy so May went under a cover, and stayed there until a few months ago, but the need to go sailing got to me and I hauled the covers off her to find, as expected, several years of deferred maintenance awaiting me.

At the same time, I wasn't that enamoured of her name.  I had to remove the old name from her transom to get the old brightwork off, so this was the opportunity.  She's synonymous with small, adventurous mischief, tough like a little terrier dog, and can ghost along when the smoke from a fire on the beach is rising straight up.  So she's got a new name,  she's "Spook" of Stillwater. The new name has been affixed to her transom so its official.

I’ve said it before, and will say it again, “this is the summer of the paintbrush”, and so it is.  I’ve been stripping old, peeling varnish, I suspect that its 2 part polyurethane as it is a stinker to sand, so it’s a scraper job rather than sanding. I’ve been able to scrape and sand out some of the water stains in the Eucalyptus wood trim, have gone through three rolls of Bear brand exterior 14 day masking tape, half a litre of Goldspar marine varnish, touched up some of the white paint, painted and varnished the mast, boom and yard, scrubbed the sails and taken every bit of rigging and cordage off her.
I’ve also stripped the interior, taken the ground tackle off, all the cruising gear, charts, stove and all the containers for the galley stores are out.

She’s only 18 ft on deck, but gosh, there was a lot of stuff inside her, Its all spread out on the garage floor right now and I’m wondering what magical spell allowed me to put all of it away inside that small space.

But I’m almost done, there are some mods needed to get that trailer right,  the boat tends not to come up the middle of the rollers so I’m having to carry a trolley jack to move her over before I tie her down to tow the rig away, so that’s needing attention.  There is more,. Way back Howard Rice and I worked out a reboarding system we called the “sling” for getting back aboard a SCAMP.  I’d had a pair of short strops with a foot loop in the end, secured on the stern mooring cleats and accessible through the fairlead openings. I could get back aboard, but it was a struggle, so I’m putting a “sling” on each side.  In this case the freeboard is only very slightly more than the SCAMP and I’m sure it will work.

I’ve still got lots of little tasks to do, I’ve sponged out the interior, aired the cushions, replaced the valves in the big bilge pump, scrubbed the sails and replaced the mast lashings. Another job will be to replace the fire extinguisher which is still ok for pressure but the handle is very rusted. I’m planning to take that to Daughters house and start a fire ( outside, I said OUTSIDE!) then get the granddaughters together and give a lesson on how to use one.  Hopefully they’ll never need to use that lesson.

The boat will get a new one.

I’m also planning to put a simple electrical system in, a small solar panel, a car battery, a couple of LED cabin lights and an anchor light.  The rules say that for a vessel under 7 m long, not under power, when under way at night, a big torch is legal.  I’ve three ready to go on board.  A big spotlight flashing in someones face gets their attention much more quickly than a couple of tiny, dim navigation lights.
The electrical system will include USB points to recharge phone, vhf, laptop and camera. We’ve become very “connected” these days and its hard to do without.

I’m building a new lightboard too, that hooks up to the tow vehicle and mimics the tail and signal lights of the tow wagon.  The old one was perfectly satisfactory but it had been sitting out in the weather for so long its rotted away, and the lenses on the lights crazed and cracked.

I just wanted to go sailing, so far its been five days of solid work, I’m expecting to be close to ready in a couple more days and hope to give her a shakedown daysail about Friday 11th.  

There is a small group planning a cruise in the Bay of Islands mid February, and I’m hoping to be there.
I’d better get that paintbrush working again.


 You cant really see it, but there is a great deal of masking tape on there, darker blue than the topside cove stripe paint. She's only little but there is a lot of varnished trim on her. It does look nice but its a lot of work to keep up.


 The new name.    Spook is 18ft on deck, just over 7ft wide, weighs around 1200 kg, has a daggerboard as well as that big shoal draft straight keel under her, draws about 650mm and is rigged as a gaff sloop, 


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Springtime, it brings hope and opportunity here on the river.


Blog for 6 Dec. So, in theory at least its the 6th day of summer here, but the weather is its normal unsettled self for this time of year, warmer than usual so at times the weather is more extreme. 

Its odd, when you’ve not been working in the shop for a while, the place gets really untidy, tools get hidden under things, other things aren't in the places where they should be, the floor looks as though its never seen a broom, and you can't walk from one end to the other without tripping over stuff.
It has to be gremlins, sneaky little buggers,  I’d never leave the place like that.

I’ve had more than a few distractions of late, a combination of things together with more rain than usual meant that “the summer of the paintbrush” didn’t happen last year, that plus other maintenance issues on the old ship meant that I wasn’t gaining on it.  Rot pockets, several of them, one pretty big, had to be dug out and new wood grafted in, sanded flush and new paint applied.  Every time I thought I had it all done, I found another one. I think I’ve one to go, but with a 45 year old boat that had been pretty neglected for a long time, there might well be more.

But I’ve been doing small jobs as time and other issues allow, and there are little patches starting to look ok.  I’ve redone almost all of the interior varnish, that’s easy, it can be done in small sections, a light sand, 5 coats of satin finish oil based varnish applied with a sponge brush and she’s looking ok inside.

I’ve done some woodwork in there as well, plus replaced a couple of plywood panels, they don’t match but what the hell, they’re there and do the job.

But it’s the outside that really needs the work, plus  the paint in the inside of the flying bridge upstairs is in really bad shape.  So I’ve started on that, done the control console, rewired the anchor and steaming light which  is now on the new light mast that I’ve built. I was, if not doing the big jobs, getting small ones done, that mast being one. Also managed to get the port and starboard navigation lights working again, the wiring on this old girl is a real mares nest and I’ve been gradually rewiring sections of it . That’s not an area of expertise that I’m familiar with, but each time I do a bit I learn some more.

So, now I’m legal when motoring at night or at anchor away from my dock .

We don't see much of the sun for a while when the sun is low in the winter, so lichen gets a start on the parts of the old ship that I don't get to as often when I'm parked here. That spotty stuff on the windows is lichen, its been sprayed with 30 seconds, not quite "spray and walk away" but effective. I'll be scrubbing it off this afternoon.
The "wheel" has been stripped, sanded and varnished, multiple coats, and the brasswork cleaned off. I've relocated the compass, I'll have to swing it when I get out to sea and there is space on top of that console for a deviation card that I'll make up.  The GPS is permanently located downstairs so a compass up here is helpful if the visibility outside is not so good.
That "yellow" paint is in fact "Oyster white",  much more yellow than I remember it from boats on which I've used it before, but they were a long time back. Its an ok colour though, less harsh than the pure white that is there now.  
Visible too are the wires and some of the fittings from my electrical work, I'll paint the rest of the area before pinning the wires in place. 
Now all I have to do is get the rest of the ship looking like that.

I’ve begun with the paint on the outside, got primer, one undercoat and one top coat on one side of the cabin, one more coat to go on that side. Lots more to do, but if I do a bit a couple of times a week I’ll get there eventually.

This summer looks a lot better than the last for a whole lot of reasons, one being that I’m in better shape and better motivated to get things done.  I AM going sailing this season, and with the issues around camping ashore that there are, decided to get my little ship “Spook” out from under her covers and sort her out so I can go cruising.  She’s an 18 ft on deck gaff sloop with a long keel, traditional styling, a cabin with a little galley, two bunks and enough storage for a week away, a while back I built a really efficient icebox so I’ll have the luxury of keeping such as cheese, milk and meats.

As I said, unlike the several years just past, I  am going sailing this year.

So, damn all the other jobs that I should be doing,  I started getting Spook ready on Sunday.  Hauled the tarp off,  stripped everything out of the cabin and the lockers, and the gremlins have been in there as well so there were a few surprises hiding in the lockers. Including I must say, the cheap hand crank combination lamp, radio receiver, phone charger unit. The surprise was that works, still, after not being touched for four years.
The L/Ion battery powered cabin lamp still has charge in it, and the black jelly beans in the screw top jar in the galley were (past tense, they’re all gone) edible. Much else went in the trash bin.

All of the exterior brightwork needs re doing, I think it was done with two part polyurethane so getting it stripped back is going to be a pig of a job. That stuff doesn’t sand off well, but comes off in sheets where its failing, so it’s a scraper job.

Incidentally, I inherited a "Skarsten" brand scraper, I'd never used one before and initially it wasn't doing the job.  But I recall, way back, reading in a Practical Boat Owner that unlike the carbide scrapers with their replaceable blade these should be sharpened.  I did that, grinder, then oilstone, and its seriously good at removing that tired and peeling varnish. Never too old to learn eh. 

I’m working on her at Mums place, alongside her brothers workshop. Sadly, now in his late 80s he’s not able to do much these days, but it means that I have a place to work on her (the boat not mum) that’s close to a power point and tools. Living on my big boat, tied to a dock at the bottom of a very steep and muddy track means I don’t have access to that for this 1200 kg boat here at home. Pluses and minuses. Mums place is about 20 mins away so that’s not too bad.

I was going to be working on her today, but we’ve had what was possibly the most intense thunderstorm I’ve seen in NZ (I’ve been through a hurricane in the Caribbean, the lightning flashes were so close together you could read a newspaper by them), apart from all the noise and lightning, my little SEI , 15 ft double ender, got picked up off the dock by the wind, and flicked against the side of my ship, breaking both gunwales, punching a small hole in her planking and doing a whole lot of cosmetic damage as well as punching out a window on the ship.  MORE jobs to do.

I’d thought of doing some drawing, I’ve not been able to do much on the drawing board for a while, but had it set  up ready, pens all working, (Rotring Rapidograph, touchy things but their new ink is better) and, what do you know, during that storm it got tossed off the table and now I’ve got to start from scratch to get the drafting machine all straight and square again.  Ever had one of those days?

So, today, being thoroughly annoyed and demoralised, I chose a small job that I knew I’d get done.  I’d stripped and revarnished the flying bridge steering wheel last week, between all the other stuff in my life, and today I polished the brass rings, found screws to replace the missing ones and put it all back together with Anhydrous lanolin on all the threads and the taper.

Its all done. Its nearly Christmas so I’m going to pull some clean trousers on and go out to buy some pressies for the granddaughters.

If you’re finding this all a bit boring,  remember that here in NZ its getting close to summertime, dinghy cruising time.  Here is one of Steve Parkes excellent video essays to remind us just how great small boat cruising can be. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJmGj4u_fss   If that doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.   Thanks Steve, your videos are much loved.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Morning on the river.


Morning.  14 July. 2018.

He snores, my little dog, as he lies sleeping on his rug. Dawn is still an hour away so he’s entitled to sleep, but I’m sitting up in my bunk looking out over the water, watching the ripples distorting the reflection of the lights on the hills above.
I don’t mind his gentle, rhythmic  rumble, I imagine he’s really saying to me, “I’m here boss, you’re not alone, if there is a threat I’ll be there with teeth bared barking in my best don’t mess with us, voice.  Don’t feel lonely boss, I’m here”.

And I don’t. My litle ship, my floating home is rising with the tide, its like being lifted by the slow heartbeat of the world. It’s a big tide this morning, one that covers all of the mudbanks, bringing clear ocean water in even this far up the estuary, changing the colour from brown to grey green.

Its too early yet to think of what the day might hold, the planning of the day, the jobs that need doing, what is urgent and what might wait. It’s a time to relax, to watch the hypnotic march of the tiny waves, listen to the birds awakening and proclaiming, “I’m here, this is my place, I’m here, listen to my song”.

There is some pale light above the horizon now, being winter its late, but winter sometimes brings a clarity of light that we don’t see in the warm haze of summer and while the sun is close to its morning appearance the stars still shine, bright and sharp. Its going to be a good day today, I feel very privileged to live here on the river, afloat, so close to nature and the natural things around me.

The water is not my friend, nor is it my enemy, it is impersonal in its actions, but I am content when with it, close to it, borne up by it.

Living here has me close to the moods of the sea. It can be peaceful, gentle, filled with promise of reward. It can be angry, threatening, capricious, or playful. But its rarely the same for long, the constant change is enough to hold my attention always. There is peace here, watching the water is enough to so occupy me that the world of mankind does not trouble me. I understand those for whom long voyages out on the ocean call so strongly, but here in the shelter of the river I can have both. Waking here is a wonderful thing, so near, and yet so far.

Its light now, my little dog still snores, but he’s muttering under his breath, grumbling as he wakes.  In a moment we’ll go outside, and we’ll both look out over the water before we walk off together to see what the day has in store for us, there are rats that need catching, both for him and me.




 "Dawn on the River."   Photo by Paul Gilbert, Aquapix. 



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Starting to put in the fiddly bits that can make all the difference.


Inside my little shelter, cuddy, dodger or whatever it might be called there is enough width to sit across the boat, feet on one side, back against the other, tucked in under the “veranda” out of the weather.  There is space to do that while cooking or getting clothing out from the big dry lockers forward,  maybe even to get changed while its raining outside.
I’ll have VHF/SSB radio, lights, and GPS on the bulkhead and the cooker, with pots and pans, condiments and such will be mounted on the back of one of the big hatches 
To access the latter, the hatch swings open, and is latched there, to put away again, just close the hatch and dog it shut. The cuddy is a multi use space, and its important that its comfortable to use.

But sitting in there, dreaming of being out at sea, a problem came to mind. It was damn uncomfortable!  The inside edge where the side deck meets the “cabin” side is in just the wrong place, it cricks the neck, leaves the back unsupported and, as I said, is very uncomfortable.
There is too the issue of the little bits and pieces that need to be ready to hand when out there sailing, the main stowage in Long Steps with its air tanks sealed off by screw top hatches are not suited to this use, it takes too long to access them, so, on with the thinking cap.

The answer, a pair of lockers that fit in under the side decks,  the faces sloped a little to make a nice back rest, the floor of the locker seated on top of the second stringer down from the gunwale, and the space divided in two halfway along. 
Finishing the lockers at that height means that there is still space to brace me against the sides with back against one and feet against the side of the boat under the lockers on the other.

There are cutouts in the face of the lockers for access, those will have stretchy nets over them so things stay put but easy for a hand to pull the shock cord down and reach in.
What goes in there? The hand bearing compass, some granola bars, the small thermos flask with the hot chocolate in it, my spare hat, ( I seem to have left hats in the sea in many places) gloves, sun cream and such. 

I’ve dummied those lockers up in 6mm plywood, tacked them together with epoxy and after that set up, have taken them back out to coat with sealant and paint the insides, They need a little sanding then they can be fitted back in with glue and screws to hold them in place and the standard of comfort will be vastly improved, all the way from say, half a star to three quarters of a star.  The local cheap motel might be 2 stars but the view from Long Steps little camping shelter will more than make up for the difference in amenties.
 Ready to be finished off, coated inside and out, then permanently glued into place.


Its just sitting there to test fit for size, but you get the picture.  Yes there are drain holes in the little locker floors, but I sincerely hope that I never get any water in there.


Other progress, I’ve fitted the seat top nosing piece to the starboard seat, hidden the screws with “proper” wooden plugs, and have fitted the doubler under the after edge.  That latter is an area where I expect to be standing up at the helm quite a lot, and the doublers mean that I can put a much thicker rounding on that edge so making contact with my shins a bit less painful.

As well, now that the seating, including the moveable rowing seat, is in place I can begin to contemplate what the rowing position might be.  An idea that is cooking away in that maze of wandering paths that is my mind, is that if I make up some tall rowlocks I would be able to stand up and row facing forward, pushing on the oars to move the boat rather than sitting facing aft and pulling. That would be a good way to rest the muscles, taking it in turn with the more conventional rowing position, as well as being good for manoeuvring the boat into a small space such as a dock or marina berth.
Two piece oars! I will be needing long ones, so its off to Duckworks Boatbuilders supply for the carbon fibre oar sleeves, I’ve used the smaller ones on lighter oars, very successful, but this will need the big ones as the oars will be around 2.8m long ( just over 9 ft).

While the brain was working, and yes there are times when it doesn’t, I began construction of the anchor stowage bin under the tiller.  With the anchor there I can veer it or retrieve it from the cockpit which will mean that I don’t have to go out there on that tiny foredeck when it’s a bit rough on the water.
Having sides, in just the right place means that I can very easily put seats out from the bin to the sides, just in front of the tiller bulkhead, still leaving space in which to stand, those seats will enable me to sit, back against the curved coaming and one arm resting lazily on the tiller, my weight in the right place when the boat is reaching or running. Comfort again. Pleasure in the sailing of a small boat is largely about being comfortable.