Wednesday, 25 March 2015

O B's solo adventure

I'd been in bed for two days, my teeth chattering, under a sweaty bedsheet topped with a pile of heavy blankets. The wind had moaned incessantly round the eaves and whistled in the phone lines. The power had been out and the rain had come in evil horizontal flurries. The crash of waves had reached my bed night and day. I wouldn't usually let weather like this hammer down without closer observation. On day three I hauled myself out of bed and went to the beach, maybe another glut of driftwood had arrived, some interesting jetsam, ambergris!

On looking towards OB's snug berth between the dunes I could kid myself that I'd been in bed so long that my bearings were off or that the sand had piled up obscuring her from view. But as I neared a hole seemed to open up in me, corresponding in size almost exactly to the gap in the dunes where my boat wasn't.

Onawind Blue, gone? I couldn't comprehend.

Before clear thought returned my feet were taking me off at quite a pace along the beach downwind and downsea of the weather. Had she been stolen? The local boat club had suffered several robberies over the winter—even the Admiralty Pattern anchor had been ripped from its pedestal at the entrance, but why would anybody steal OB, no sailor surely, and what worth was she but to a sailor? I began to consider that she'd been taken by the sea. A fearful hypothesis, I knew well what would happen to her in the surf—she'd be rolled, filled, rolled and filled, sunk and dragged along the bottom by the strong current until she jammed on underwater rocks or came upon the sharp breakwater further down the beach. But mine had been the highest boat on the beach, how could she have gone when others stayed? Was she pushed?

All further conjecture was arrested by a shape, 500 metres away in the dunes. It was her, I was sure. But now I was crowded by fears that all I was seeing was the boat cover crowning a pile of matchwood.

Should I keep my head up as I neared and let the details reveal themselves to my myopic eyes, or stare at the sand and so receive the full impact. I looked down at the dog, still bouncing around my heels—he'd known something was afoot since we'd arrived at the beach—and boldly crossed the sand to the dunes.

The boat cover gave her a vaguely collapsed form but I could make out her fine unbroken line below. If she'd rolled she would certainly have lost the cover, why hadn't she gone into the sea, I wondered as I peeled back the heavy tarp to reveal a couple of wheelbarrow loads of sand. I dug about a bit. All the kit was intact and in place, she hadn't rolled or even tipped on her side. She'd had a sedate journey from one place in the dunes to another.

As I've learned, watching heavy weather over the years, waves push bigger boats with deeper draught up the beach into messy pile-ups while lighter, shallow draught boats float off on the backwash and go through an invariably fatal rinse cycle. Why had OB behaved like a heavy boat?

The evidence was under the sand. The drain plugs were open. She had virtually no buoyancy, a large amount of sea would have lifted her but water would have surged in through the drain plugs and she would have sunk back down again before she could travel too far on the backwash. The next gush of water would float her up the beach and again she'd ground out on the backwash. As she filled with sand she'd need bigger waves to lift her. Maybe she'd taken all of 24 hours to move those 500 metres, the big seas didn't last longer.

There was still some detective work to be done, how had she left her original place on the beach? Several people had commented how safely she was stored, at least 1.50 metres above mean sea level. She'd weathered several winter storms in exactly this spot. Storms that had denuded the beach and uprooted the shower installations. I was sure she was safe here. But the alternative? I've seen abandoned boats used as trampolines and trashed by children, even burnt on bonfires, but I still couldn't help thinking that it was far fetched to think that someone might come down to this deserted corner in a howling gale and give OB a shove.

Back at OB's spot the situation rapidly became clear. The wind, that had blown for two days before the rain arrived and the sea rose had excavated the sand from under OB's keel, lowering her considerably with respect to the water level. And there on the summit of the dune was a pile of seaweed. The wash from that one wave would have been higher than OB's entire freeboard, no wonder it sucked her from her den and filled the streets with spume.

I had a boat again. The mystery was cleared up. The lesson learned—tie the boat to something. Now all I had to do was retrieve her.

The long roll home.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Old saws and chestnuts

The tenon saw is a right handy tool when it's sharp, and fairly useless when dull. The ways of the world are such that it's easier, less time consuming and relatively cheaper, simply to purchase a new saw when the old one becomes blunt, than to learn how to sharpen the teeth and buy the necessary honing tools—at least that's what they tell me at the local hardware outlet.

It's not parsimony, though I live frugally, but a desire to keep the tools I already have that has lead me to embark on this restoration of The Invisible Workshop. And saw sharpening looks easy in the youtube video, though my saw became still duller after the first attempt. However, with practice and patience I might sometime achieve a solid work surface and sharp tools. Yes, we've heard it all before.

I look at these Swedes, from long before someone thought to flatpack furniture, and am struck with wonder.

I got the rebate plane working and made a lap joint out of some cruddy pallet pine.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

I saw a plane

Walking from the car to feed a parking meter I was lured by a siren song issuing from the gloom behind a half open door. I should have tied myself to the meter but I was already lost to the prospect of treasure and soon I was standing in a dark room piled high with promising pieces of interesting old tat. There was no one about and so I began to rummage. Passing over a dutch oven, a Tilly lamp and a varnished case of cutlery I found, under a table in a shadowy corner, a wooden box of assorted tools. A quick delve and my hand alighted on a rebate plane. I felt the heavy, smooth wood and the cold steel blade. Although I could barely see it I could make out glue marks on the back. Then, “As if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.”

'What's this glue?' I inquired.

'That'll be where the carpenter glued on a piece to act as a fence.' He said with confidence. It seemed a reasonable, if slight odd, explanation.

'How much?'

You're supposed to haggle in these situations but for non confrontational people like myself it's easier to assume that sellers have given their wares an honest evaluation and are not trying to extract an extra buck. I coughed at his price, handed over the cash and resolved to watch a few old episodes of Lovejoy.

The next day in the bright light of The Invisible Workshop I gave the plane a perusal and immediately realised that I'd been a sucker. A carpenter hadn't touched this plane for many years. The blade was wrongly set and it was immovable, as was the wedge. And what was all the white gunk? The working parts were welded in place with glue, and that explained the adhesive marks on the back. This plane had spent years as a decoration, probably glue to a restaurant wall, adding a rustic touch.

A few days later I was up country with a friend pollarding olive trees with my dependable bow saw when I was overcome with exhaustion and stumbled to the car for a rest. My friend tidied up our tools and drove me home. The fatigue developed into a condition that required hospitalisation and when I next found myself in the workshop I discovered my bow saw was absent. Doubtless rusting in the long grass under the olive tree where I'd let it fall.

Quick research revealed that the cost of a round trip to recover the saw would total more than a new saw. And the spondolicks I'd coughed up for that 'objet d'art' plane still hurt. I was punishing myself—You had a saw, you lost it. What do you expect? A new one?—Quite why I'm so harsh on myself I don't know... Maybe because I'm so lenient on my children...

Some time ago an astute business acquaintance of mine bought a cut price lot of 100 folding chairs from that Swedish furniture store. Nice ones in beech, stained black. The problem was that every time he sat down he ended up on the floor amid a pile of kindling. I've been using the kindling produced by him, and the members of the association he sold the chairs to, in my wood stove for years.

I'd been looking at traditional hand tools for some time and realised that with half a chair, a new saw blade (aquired for a piffling amount) and some string, I could make a bow saw.

I still had a heap of driftwood— brought to the beach by a winter storm—to cut, and found that my new saw was perfectly adequate for chomping through the uniformly bleached wood.  

Thursday, 26 February 2015

I saw a horse

Sanded spars are not photogenic. All the old layers of varnish are gone and the masts are somewhat thinner for it, they may well rattle in the decks. Any weight I may have removed has been added to the boom, to which I've scarfed an 8cm extension. It was always a short boom, thin too, and made from a scuzzy length of baton that once belonged to a stage set. I've glued clean trim to the bottom and sides and set a sheave into the clew end to redirect the reefing lines and make shortening sail quicker.  

But the work has been hampered by the usual problems of having an invisible workshop and exacerbated by the state of my tools. I've spent a lot of time traveling back to square one—rediscovering what constitutes a functioning arrangement in which to manufacture and repair items of wood and metal. Working in poor conditions—the bench wobbling wildly with every stroke of a dull plane, tools, pencils, rulers, shaken to the ground, loose screws becoming lost in the grass until, barefoot in the summer, I find them with my heel—I can only hope to produce shoddy work.

I started by making a solid working surface. Solid but not flat. The piece, laminated from MDF and chipboard, warped as the glue dried in the sunshine. I followed up by going over the rotting pair of trestles with a set square and then refastening them with glue and dowels. Where ever I set up this surprisingly heavy contraption one or two trestle legs fail to rest on the ground but this is resolved with a pair of wedges.

Nowadays the attitude in The Invisible Workshop has shifted away from results to focus on process, the satisfaction being in the accurate stroke of a properly functioning plane.

On this little journey I've learned to get the most out of a worn, parted whetstone and have restored my chisels and plane as well as an old screwdriver my grandfather once lent me to adjust the air/fuel mixture on my Morris Minor van. In the way of many that borrow tools I failed to return it and through some whimsy of happenstance it has stayed with me. Though paint-stained and much pitted with rust, the handle split and scuffed, the shaft loose in it's socket it was evidently an object that deserved restoration—for the memory of my grandfather, my unreliable Morris van and the 30 intervening years. I removed the rust with wet and dry sandpaper, reshaped the handle with a file and sanded with progressively finer grits until the wood was smooth as skin. Then I left it to soak in teak oil for a few days, and reassembled with wood glue.

I soon put it to use extracting some brass screws from a rebate plane that I bought from a junk shop for 8 euros. It was then that I discovered that the antique dealer had ripped me off.  
Chisels, knives, screwdriver, restored blocks, parted whetstone and Morris van.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

All tied up

'You can never have enough of them,' boatbuilders like to say. I wouldn't disagree, I'd love to have plenty of clamps but if ever I've had a spare 20 euros it seems to end up on a haul of household basics. No, I've never prioritized clamp buying.

Any workshop will only have as many clamps as it can store, I have a small cupboard, if I tried to imitate some of the projects I see where the gunnels are gripped as if by legions of leaches, I would quickly reach peak clamp.

Lime Regis' St. Ayles Skiff gunnel glue up

I've got on alright with four reasonably sized clamps and four small ones (no idea where they came from). Anything beyond what these could manage I've sorted out with a length of cord. You know, bowline in one end, figure of eight with a bight 20 or 30cm back from that. The working end goes round the piece to be clamped, through the bowline and back through the loop. You've then got a 2:1 reduction to get some good tension on the line and it can be tied off with a clove hitch round the standing part. I built a lot of Onawind Blue using that method and still use it to lash kit within the boat.

But while glueing up a crate built from some scrap, I thought it was time to look more closely at the clamp situation. And it appeared that I had enough wood left over to make one. I was keen to move on to another project to take my mind off the failure of the crate, which was simply too heavy to do the jobs I'd had in mind for it. Put an aubergine in it and it became cumbersome.

I discovered some truly talented and inspirational woodworkers on youtube, soaked up as much information as I felt I needed and began. I work rather like I cook, seeing what I've got and taking it from there rather than going out for a bag of ingredients. So this clamp had to come from the cupboard. The blocks that I'd just made hadn't cost me a cent and there was even less reason why a clamp should.

Since the cordless screwdriver/drill packed up I've stopped using screws. The upside of this is that I am becoming familiar with the dowel joint. So making a strong, right angled clamp head was not a problem. The rest of the system is rather more clumsy and not quick but it is strong and for glueing up it will work fine.

Having finished the clamp and being confined to the house for days I couldn't help spending some time on the finish. I enjoyed the irony of trying to achieve a good finish on something as humble as a clamp that spends a lot of time at the bottom of the tool box scuffing against all and sundry.

Following my boating doctrine that kit should have more than one function I inscribed the clamp with an exhortation not to lose my cool. I now need two more with slogans, one to encourage me to make decisions and another to discourage me from rushing in headlong.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Mechanical Advantage

Though much conspires against it, solo sailing is still my aim. No longer the muscled, younger man of my earlier sailing days I need some help on the beach moving Onawnd Blue to the water and back, particularly when there is some urgency to get her out of the waves. Passers-by are undependable, difficult to control if once they get their minds fixed on the idea of moving the boat, and sometimes downright dangerous. And reliable crew, well...

As I've so often found it is better for all concerned if I am independent. To this end I decided to make some blocks and asked my stepfather Bob to turn some oak sheaves. This he did with surprising alacrity given the temperature of his workshop on the welsh borders.
Most of the tools in the Invisible Workshop have rusted or become irrevocably blunt but at least the belt sander can be relied upon to munch unappeasably through soft woods. Thanks to this, plenty of filler and some ropework in the evenings, I bungled together a pair of blocks.

I let some bad weather pass through and with only a few little waves remaining decided to test it. All my calculations had been based on the merest speculation so I had no idea if a 5:1 reduction would be sufficient, or a 9 cm diametre sheave or an 8mm fibreglass axel made from an old flexible tentpole. With this reassuring level of uncertainty I made for the beach with the blocks, a tangle of assorted lines and the dog. (The only family member to show any interest in witnessing what might evolve into a minor nautical disaster.)

I set up the tackle as I thought best and left it laid out on the sand for my return, then rowed out through the waves. Sharper and more powerful than they appeared from the beach, not to say wetter, a couple of waves came rowidly over the bow. I rowed in circles waiting for onlookers to stop examining the blocks or devine whether the dog, who'd set up a desolate whinning, was lost, before pointing the bows at the waiting tackle.

My aim was good and I'd waited for a gap in the sets of waves but the boat made as if to broach on the first wave and was pushed off downsea at a dangerous angle. My adrendaline up I flailed at the oars to right OB and got her stern on to the next wave but again she tried to broach and slewed off side-on to the next breaking wave. Surely a capsize, but no, I earned a soaking but kept her righted by getting my wieght on the rail. I flailed again and her bows ground on the sand. I hopped out, immediately grabbing the eyelet on the bow to avoid her being dragged off by the backwash from the waves.

I was 15 metres from where the block lay waiting, I couldn't leave the boat to go and get it as she'd drift off and the tackle wouldn't reach that far anyway. What's more I lacked the strength to move the boat that critical one or two metres onto the safety dry sand, especially when a quarter full of water.

The situation was a familiar one and I'd learnt that I couldn't yield one inch to the sea that would drag the boat away from her destination with every wave that washed under her. However, with every wash of water that floated her I managed to gain a small amout of ground. In this way I took a very long time to travel the short distance to the waiting tackle, I hooked on with relief and started to haul on the line. I hauled and hauled some more. Nothing appeared to be happening, other than an ominous tension growing in the line. Then suddenly the boat lurched and turned to face up the beach. I tied off the line to a cleat in the boat and got a fender under her bow then unscrewed the drain plugs and pulled again. She came forward another metre and there, out of danger from the sea she could drain while I pondered. The line was far too elastic. For two metres of ground I should have hauled ten of line but there seemed to be rope everywhere.

I didn't like the looks I was getting from the people stepping over the taughtly streched lines crossing the beach, but the tackle had done its job and I now had as long as I needed to heave and harumph the boat, on fenders, the 20 metres to her place in the dunes. Then I stowed her gear, replaced the cover and tidied the lines away.

I got home, ate a large plate of potatoes, took a hot tot of brandy, put on my best woollens and went to bed for the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Goodbye to Ella

It's not always easy having relations to stay but Onawind Blue's cousin Ella was the perfect guest. Pretty, undemanding and grateful of the fresh water clean out and other attention she received at The Invisible Workshop.

The time for her to leave came about all too soon and unfortunately I hadn't had the chance to take her out on my own. (Though the doctors would say that solo sailing is still beyond me.) I hadn't expected Jordi and Anna, the intrepid pair that were to sail the next leg, mainly because the wind was foul. It would be a slog for them even though the leg was short. They were keen to get going and we wheeled Ella to the beach, me inwardly cursing that I hadn't organised some crew so that I could sail with them in OB. I desperately wanted some photos of the two boats together on the briny.

We set up Ella and launched her with out mishap and I watched from the beach as she beat out to sea, tacked and set off up the coast. 'There goes a missed opportunity.' I thought as I sloped home, stopping beside OB to tidy her interior. While deciding how best to spend the afternoon without feeling sullen, my friend Alex cycled by on his way home for lunch. 'Going sailing?' He asked. I looked at him, he's only 24 and built of solid muscle.

'Fancy coming?'
I saw a sparkle in his eye.
'Quick, go and put your bike away. I'll see you back here in 10 minutes.'

Ella had a good half an hour start on us and from the beach I could no longer see her. Having seen that she's fairly good upwind I wondered if OB could catch up. Alex and I boarded and took a long beat out to sea. Hoping that familiarity with my boat would give us an advantage close-hauled I arranged Alex's 80 kilos to provide the best trim, milked every gust and never fell off the wind except to gain speed when slowed by waves slapping on the windward bow. With a racer's grimace across my gob I tacked and set off on the new course in earnest pursuit.

Although Alex and I maintained a continual yakety yak my mind was on the sailing, and on my boat. Could it be that I'd forgotten how well she sails? It wasn't long before I could see Ella's sail, she was just closing with the marina at Roda de Bara. She tacked and I judged that OB was two thirds of a mile downwind. After a few more tacks we were alongside her.

Sailing close-hauled it was clear that OB had more speed (as one would expect from a longer waterline and more sail area) and I spilled wind so that we could sail together and converse. Ella had a problem with the sail, it wasn't setting well, with wrinkles (girts, Michalak calls them) from the clew to the throat. I'd noticed this when sailing her myself though had hesitated to heave on more tension as the throat didn't seem to be sufficiently reinforced. I'd strengthen the throat in The Invisible Workshop but still those girts persisted.

The force 3 breeze fell to a low F2 and we began to wallow. I thought about what to do. We couldn't complete the whole trip because I wouldn't have the energy and I was worried that the wind would entirely fail. Of course I could strap Alex to the oars, but I knew it was time to be going, OB and Ella had sailed together. So I turned OB towards home.

After a short distance I spied a kayak and hailed it. Alongside it transpired that the kayaker was one of my blog readers and so I felt confident in asking him a favour. I passed him my camera and turned once again to pursue Ella. Unfortunately I didn't get my new friend's name but am very grateful for the photos he took of OB and Ella sailing together. (Moltes gracies company!)

Sailing towards home the chit-chat lulled and Alex and I fell into that blissful trance-like state that comes when sailing broad in a light wind under a hot sun. My mind turned to food, just a few days ago I'd emptied OB of rusting tins and made a small feast of the mackerel fillets a la diablesse, smoked cod liver and partridge in vinegar marinade. OB still hadn't been restocked with emergency rations. Alex was peckish too. To relieve our sun-baked brains we stopped for a swim. Alex is a skilled diver and spearfisherman and he immediately headed for the bottom in search of an octopus. I swam quietly round OB, washing grime off her sides with handfuls of seawater.

Alex returned empty handed and we sailed home. Heaving OB up the beach and onto her trailer Alex said, 'Did you really do all this on your own before?' 'Yes,' I replied, 'but I never used to be this hungry.' We smiled at each other, weakened and wan sailors. Alex sped off to his mum's cooking and I went home and gazed into the fridge.

Ha! Grilled skirt steak with fried potatoes and Dijon mustard!