Saturday 30 December 2006

In Business

A fruitful day in the workshop, I was well prepared after staying up into the early hours taking measurements off the computer. And it was with confidence that I eventually marked up the ply to be cut.

First I went round to the carpenter though. To get some 5mm marine ply for the frame backing. We had a long conversation about wild mushrooms, the type you eat not the type that according to him you keep in your trousers,(see Trow Cartopper post) then we got onto tools. He’s always on at me about having good tools and the right tools for the job, I don’t know if he’s trying to win some trade off me, or if he thinks I cut my wood with the bread knife. Anyway I complimented him on his array of quality machinery and got back to the workshop.

I was just getting out the tools when the mother-in-law came by to ask when the boat would be finished. After much thought she's decided she’d like her ashes scattered out at sea and as I happen to be building a boat would I do the honours. Hopefully we'll be afloat before Easter I told her. Oh, I should last till then, she said. She’ll last a lot longer I’m sure, she’ll have plenty of time to come for a sail I assured her. No, she said, she’d rather go in the boat when she’s safely in her urn.

Squared up the oar looms, and cut some frame brackets and before I knew it darkness fell giving me the opportunity to learn a new lesson—if you haven’t got enough light to cut by don’t cut. Words from the gospel of the blindingly obvious but it took me a squiggly cut to realize that I couldn't see a thing. I continued working by cosy lamp light.

Wednesday 27 December 2006


Started on some oars to keep my mind off the frames. The oars come in Jim Michalak’s book Boatbuilding for Beginners and Beyond, it’s becoming a well thumbed tome. For a while I thought I’d go for Dynamite Payson’s oars but eventually the Michalak ones proved to have more detail in terms of marking out the wood and more explanation for the building. Also they’re laminated whereas the Payson oars come from one piece and maybe more likely to warp.

It made a welcome break to do something straight forward and with plenty of explanation. The light Trow plans are packed with detail as I found out again later on but you really have to dig and delve to get to it. I’ve got the plans on the computer and I open them using Freehand 9 which is an old version. I can’t read the measurements straight off the screen but have to write down the co-ordinates of each point and then subtract one co-ordinate from another to get a length. This works, but it is time consuming and jotting down the x and y then subtracting adds room for error.

Later I came back to the frame plans to take the dimensions for frame 3, but then I decided to look at the bird’s eye view drawings of the boat. Expanding the plans to 200% on a whim I saw that provision has been made for ply backing on the frames. Albeit 5mm ply which I haven’t got.

Measure once cut twice

I set about trying to solve the dilemma of how to put the frames together in such a way as to allow a notch for the inwales. First I made a time consuming grid for laying out the frames and measuring the angles. I think this may have been an exercise in procrastination as I was quite happy to put off making the first cut.

From the drawings (see Hello post) you can see that the wales fit exactly where the frame members join. I can’t think of a way to make an effective 3-way joint. After much faffing with halving joints, experiments with dowel joints and a metre of wasted wood I came to the conclusion that the frames will have to have a ply backing. The ply will act as a bracket and will only need to be about 10cm wide. The frame members can then be attached to the ply and the ply can be notched without weakening the frame. This will only have to be done on frames 1,3 and 7 so hopefully it won’t add too much weight.

By the end of the afternoon and still with nothing tangible done I made a blank for the bracket for frame 1. However, I failed to check the measurements before cutting and when I laid it on the grid after carefully finishing the edges I found it didn’t fit. I tried to rectify it but could tell it was a lost cause. So one way and another I had a reasonable amount of kindling for tonight’s fire.

Now I have to mark out some panels to free up the waste wood for making the brackets. This means doing the conversions from decimal inches to cm, something else I’ve been happy to put off.

Tuesday 26 December 2006

We don’t play guitars.

Proudly presented to the household the mast step with integrated stem support is at first taken for an attempt to build a guitar. Once the joke’s worn a bit thin other uses are quickly found for the new piece of Trow and when it’s time to take it back to the workshop it’s been turned into a garage. A struggle develops, a battle of wills. Brute force wins the day.

With all the new presents around its good to see that an interestingly shaped piece of smooth wood still gives satisfaction as a springboard for a child’s imagination.

Satisfying though this piece is, it still needs work, there’s a curve to be added to the base, a groove for a frame member and, I’ve realized, the stem support is going to have to be separated from the step when the time comes for fitting them.

Sunday 24 December 2006

Epoxy virgen no more

Laminating the oars went well, just like it said in the instruction booklet. Gloves and mask to hand plus all the clamps, screws and the wood with all its sides marked to avoid last minute confusion. There was only one moment of tension—to ensure that children were out of the way I’d chosen lunchtime to break out the smelly goop, I’d buttered up the wood with unthickened epoxy, then (as per the instructions) I had to mix in some silica thickener (a fine white dust) for a final coat before clamping the pieces together. Here I realized that I’d forgotten an implement for spooning out the silica, I toyed with the idea of dashing into the house and grabbing a spoon off the table, but knowing that the family were just tucking into pudding felt that it wouldn’t go down to well. With nothing better to hand I stuck my mitt in the pot and pulled out rather too much dust, which catching a passing gust, blew off in a great cloud onto the neighbour’s washing. Luckily they were also sitting down to lunch and my misdemeanour went unobserved.

It was a good feeling, standing back to admire my first epoxy job. It’s true that it runs quite a lot, even the thickened stuff. I don’t know how all those resinous drips are going to affect the grass, epoxy is probably not the best thing to put on your lawn, but it will sort itself out for the spring. I’ll remember never to epoxy in the same place twice, that way I should be able to give the garden a good, even covering.

Saturday 23 December 2006

Beach Buddies.

The light Trow will be a head turner, her only competition round here will be these sad old girls.

This is the local sailing club. There’s a couple of vaurien 420s three 350s, six optimists in poor condition and about 8 Hobby Cats, the rest (about 50) are all motorboats. This Rodman 500 is one of the most popular boats on these waters.

Here’s the stern post and mizzen step, there’s still a slight curve to work into the base but I’m not entirely sure how to go about it so I’ll leave it for the time being. Soon I’ll have a few pieces ready for gluing and laminating. From what I’ve read working with epoxy sounds relatively straightforward so why am I feeling so nervous about it?

The main mast step is about done but again needs a gentle curve along the bottom.

Some decent sized waves rolled up this week.

My neighbour and fellow beach bum scores a greeny. Trawlers out of Tarragona on the horizon.

Thursday 21 December 2006

The Trow Cartopper.

Well I think I’ve got all the bits and piece that I need. All I’ve got to do now is organize my time. I freed up a couple of hours midday but spent nearly half that time looking for the charger for the cordless screwdriver. I eventually found it more or less where it was supposed to be, except that it was hidden by an old wetsuit which I’d stuffed on top of it when I was rummaging around looking for the cordless screwdriver in the first place. Kicked myself so hard I spilt tea down my front.

I picked up the ply and the 1 by 1 and a plank for the oars from the carpenter's and loaded it onto the van which wasn’t easy with 20 knot gusts coming out of the northwest. Looking at it I realized that this would be the only time I get the boat on top of the van.

The carpenter used a Catalan expression that I hadn’t come across before—"bolets" meaning wild mushrooms, used in a context where in English we’d say “balls”. As in “You’ve got some wild mushrooms to be building a boat.” Mind you, it might just have been an idiosyncratic thing. This guy is obviously mushroom mad like many people round here, and I’m not surprised; there are excellent mushrooms to be had by the diligent fungi hunter. The “rovellon” and the “cep” make good eating and simply fried with garlic and parsley they are well worth a morning in the woods.
The carpenter’s office has a wall of photos depicting him with various boleti, much as a fisherman has photos of his catches.

Peppers, as in red peppers is another Catalan synonym for balls, “te pebrots”—he’s got red peppers—Is said of someone courageous. So, if you ever witness a daring exploit in Catalonia you know what to say to fellow on-lookers.

Back in the workshop after I’d got my tools sorted out I whittled away at the sternpost and the mizzen step for a pleasant while.

The idea is to get my eye in with the carpentry on the smaller bits before I move on to the major cuts. I’m reading the measurements directly off the computer and what with the number of times I come back into the house to check lengths because I don’t trust what I’ve written down I think it might be worth moving the imac down to the garden shed.

Ideally I’d move into a large, warm workspace and live in there for the duration of the build and not get distracted with all these Christmas meals. I’m sure I’ll spend more time in the kitchen than working on the boat over the next few days.

Tuesday 19 December 2006

At the Copy Shop

From Tennyson's The Princess:

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
Wind of the western sea!

I read somewhere about printing cutting plans full size. It makes sense—take the plans to the copy shop on a cd and the copy shop gives you a 5m roll of paper which you align on your butted sheets of ply and fix. Then you make a small hole at each co-ordinate and mark the wood underneath, remove the paper, join the dots and you’ve avoided all the fiddly measuring of x and y. It sounded like a good idea so I took a cd along to the shop and asked for a quote mentally totting up what I could spend, about 40€ seemed reasonable. Well the chappy did some adding up, asked me what sort of paper I wanted; the lightest I said, then he was back to the computer screen and after a while looked up with a big smile on his face and exclaimed 400€.

Blimy, this could be an expensive boat if I wanted it to be. The reason for the exorbitant pricing was that the copier only takes a certain type of photographic paper. Then why did he ask what sort of paper I wanted? Well there was a more expensive, better quality one if I wanted it. The other alternative was to try copy shops 100km away in Barcelona.

Toying with the idea of a trip to the city I realised that measuring out the co-ordinates was something I was quite looking forward to, something to be painstaking about. I was relieved that the temptation to go down the paper route had been ruled out. I’m not convinced it would have worked either; imagine tussling with an unwieldy bolt of paper, it catching the wind, snagging and ripping or getting wet, more trouble than it’s worth.

I might just have had a lucky escape from an expensive cock-up.

And so the day ended.

Monday 18 December 2006


I was talking to the guy who runs the carpenter’s shop at the local boatyard. I was doing all the talking and he was doing all the grunting. I wanted to source some copper nails, the hardware shop only sells them in packs of 1000 and at 20€ a shot they over-step the limits of a tight budget. They don’t actually but it seems a lot to spend on nails. And I certainly don't need 1000 of them.

This carpenter couldn’t have been less interested. I’ve no reason to expect him to be, but I thought you know, what with working on the interiors of plastic boats most of the time it might have been a welcome change to hear about a home boat building project.

I was wrong as his off hand grunts and body language proclaimed. But what the hell, I bored him to tears all the same.

Later I spoke to the carpenter in the village who’s ordered the marine ply, he wasn’t very interested either. Says I’ll have a problem finding copper nails round here. Then I asked him if he had a 5m length of thin wood that I could use as a batten. He gestured to a pile stacked in the corner and after a brief rummage I found an unknotted piece, I asked him how much and he said I could have it, bless his butt straps.

Sunday 17 December 2006

Today dawned like this:

A shimmering sun rises out of a black sea.

It was time to get going. Started on the stem again, amid derision from the family, “How many fingers have you got left?” They asked, with smirks, every time I came indoors for a top-up of tea.

I took it slowly bearing in mind the lessons I learnt when I cut myself. Namely, make sure the wood you’re cutting is attached to the bench and concentrate on what you’re doing.

Painstaking and perfectionist aren’t adjectives that I’d apply to myself. On a moving scale I’m nearer the “hurried and slipshod” end. Hopefully, with this build I’ll move towards a necessary degree of P and P.

“Fixity of purpose.” Were the words that drifted through my head as I whittled away at the stem and “Perseverance” when I had to take the workbench I’d made apart and re-do it. It was just too sloppy.

Here’s the stem, a satisfying shape with is three sets of parallel lines. Though you can't appreciate them here.

And here’s the bench sporting wheels from a child’s tricycle.

Saturday 16 December 2006


Welcome to The Invisible Workshop. For the present a communal garden in Spain.

The idea is to document the construction of Gavin Atkin’s Light Trow. The trials, tantrums and hopefully triumphs of a prototype boat build.

I don’t consider myself particularly well qualified for the work ahead but trust that rudimentary carpentry skills and a passion to be on the briny will see me through.

The project started over the summer, in my mind at least, after sailing to Ibiza on Capitaine Ulysse, a 12 metre aluminium drop-keel cutter. I’ve been sitting on a boating dream for about a decade and after the three day cruise the no boat situation became untenable.

Up until now I’ve satisfied this chronic case of sea fever by moving from the city to a house by the sea, windsurfing when its windy, body-boarding or surfing when it’s wavy, pottering in an inflatable dinghy or swimming when its calm. Or, more recently, simply standing on the beach gazing at the h2o.

The Light Trow will take me over the horizon on summer days with a light sea breeze, to sail, to muse on the blue dome above me and the blue disc around me. (I’ll try not to get too carried away here.) Hopefully I’ll do all this in style for the Light Trow is a very stylish craft. A gentleman’s day-sailor. Based on the Fleet Trow, a heavily built work boat mainly rowed, Gav's version is lighter and carries a small yawl rig which only adds to her traditional looks. From her nearly plumb bow and gentle sheer to the reverse raked transom and sprit lugsails on unstayed masts she breathes style and class. At least on paper. I hope all these fine qualities will survive the machinations of the Invisible Workshop.

Of all the plans I’ve looked at she seems to come closest to my personal brief. It’s taken me the last ten years to realize that a small, simply built craft is what I need. Not the huge boats that I used to dream of that all came with the drawback of having to become a millionaire first.

For the moment I have a large hole in my pocket and 8 litres of epoxy under my bed. I started on the stem about a month ago but stopped after sawing my hand instead of the wood. The stem, whose wonky angles needed rectifying, has since disappeared, no doubt swept up and thrown out, confused with the debris of domestic life.

Here are plans for Gav’s Light Trow and the links to his site.

And here is a photo from the beach; a beautiful green wave rears out of a brown, grey sea.