Monday 30 April 2007

The perfectionist in me

In between the sanding I’ve looked at some other boatbuilding blogs that make my standard of workmanship look shamefully slapdash. But apart from highlighting my shortcomings they also illustrate that everybody gets trapped in a fairing hell where, even as you eradicate uneven areas more appear and then more. Endless expanses of imperfect plywood stretch before you. Epoxy dust swirls, foxes even the protective clothing, laying a fine layer that dries your skin and clogs your hair. It intrudes on your dreams. It gets up your nose.

Ozzyc and Greg have been fairing their GT 23 Cruiser from for 9 months, not surprisingly they are getting pretty tired of it. And Peter Gron’s building Sam Devlin’s Artic tern. He’s been on one ten day sanding fest and had another mammoth bout when he faired the hull last year. Eric, who’s building Nina, a 22ft motor boat also from, hasn’t reached the fairing stage yet but he’s done some very neat epoxy work which will almost certainly give him less sanding to do when the time comes. Serious workmanship to be found on all three sites.

But while fairing is without doubt unpleasant and monotonous it’s also surprisingly difficult to stop. I reach my threshold everyday, but the morning after, in the workshop afresh, there’s energy to go round the boat one more time. This afternoon however, having been round countless times over the past few days and having gone from100 grit to 150 it suddenly wasn’t good enough, and I went back to square one, starting with the 80 grit that really munches. And I returned to block sanding by hand. The machines are just too noisy; they judder, they whine, they make an unsavoury job unbearable. And it’s just plain uncivilised to make that much noise after lunch, it echoes off the buildings, rips through the post-prandial peace of the sacred siesta. Easy going my neighbours may be but they won’t tolerate an interrupted siesta and I don’t blame them.

Using a block sander may be slower but it is also more accurate, less likely to chomp right through the epoxy and into the wood and it allows my mind to wander idly as my hand, rubs, rubs, rubs.

So while the sanding block moved in small circles over Onawind Blue’s sides leaving myriad thin scratches like the tracks of Lilliputian ice skaters, I mused on the perfectionist in me. Or rather his absence. He probably upped sticks, disillusioned, one Monday morning in my 20’s as I lay dozing in a Barcelona hangover. I suppose the entrepreneur in me went with him, along with the business acumen and that sensible chap who pays his bills on time.

Tuesday 24 April 2007

My fair lady

I’ve been through a small stack of sand paper, generated a lot of dust and my ears are still ringing with the orbital sander’s shrill whine. Bertie belt sander sat grumpily on the bench, annoyed that he wasn’t allowed free reign to gouge some divots in the hull.

Onawind Blue is some way to being fair. I recoated the reasonably smooth surface with lightly thickened epoxy and if I can manage another couple of hours in a dust cloud when that coat has fully cured I should have a hull that’s ready for painting.

Looking back through my list, of a few posts ago, I’m just ticking off point five and, looking ahead, point six should get a tick before the end of the week.

Last weekend brought many comments from passers-by, and even the local police force was good enough to send round a double act for my entertainment. Our brief conversation went something like this.

Policeman 1: Bonjour. (He knows I’m not Spanish but can’t quite pin me down)

Me: Hola.

Policeman 1: What this then? A water-going vessel?

Me: Yes, a boat.

Policeman 1: Wood won’t be strong enough. It won’t hold up to the force of the waves.

Me: But all boats were once made of wood.

Policeman 1: Yes, but it was big, thick wood. This stuff is too flimsy. It’s very irregular making a boat with such thin wood, this stuff isn’t for boats, it’s for furniture.

Me: I’m sure it will be fine.

Policeman 1: I wouldn’t go out in it.

Policeman 2: Glug, glug, glug…

Policeman 1: Au revoir.

Policeman 2: (Looking back over his shoulder) Glug, glug, glug.

And not a word about these fine lines.

Friday 20 April 2007

Some photos

Problems with computer prevent me from writing. I hope the photos tell some sort of story. Make of them what you will.

Saturday 14 April 2007

Pimp my ride

But before I could get on with the items on my list I had to do something about my bench. It’s been looking decidedly lame for sometime now, Onawind Blue is just too big a girl for those child’s tricycle wheels. They have bent in such a way that, rather then turn, they just drag along the ground ploughing furrows in the lawn. But the lameness hasn’t been so much of a problem as the height. With the boat on the bench I had to climb onto the workmate to access the interior, either that or get her off the bench and onto the ground. One afternoon shuffling around over the wet grass on my knees was enough for me to realise that it wasn’t the most convenient working position.

So I chopped 20 cm off the legs and scavenged some much sturdier wheels from a plastic tractor. I initially received considerable flak from the children who weren’t too pleased to see me sawing through another of their playthings to cannibalise the wheels but I convinced them that it was for the greater good. It will be much more fun playing in the boat than on the tractor, no? And yes, you can have an ice-cream.

The low rider bench goes like a dream and I shall almost certainly be taking Onawind Blue further a field, partly to let the lawn recover but mainly because I can.

I feel rather bad for Unhygenix though. He loved that bench. He has never really seen beyond the bench to the fact that I am building a boat and when he comes round he’d always rather talk about ‘la mesa’ than the work of art that 'the table' supports. When I told him that the bench was only a means to an end and would be chopped up to fuel the launch party barbeque he was horrified. He thought it would be excellent for summer aperitifs or large paellas and the fact that one person could wheel it from one garden to another—from one large lunch engagement to another—thrilled him, so in a weak moment I said that when I had finished he could have it. I don’t think he’ll be best pleased with the chopped version unless he wants a large mobile coffee table—or unless he’s planning on serving authentic Japanese cuisine, which somehow I doubt.

Onawind Blue on her new bench.

Looking back through yesterday’s list I realise that there’s vocabulary that might not be that familiar. I apologise if it’s bemusing, try this link which is where I went when I still thought a bumpkin was just a simple rustic.

Things to do

I was just about to jot down the following list in my note book under the heading, 'things-still-to-be-done' when I thought I might as well post it here.

1. Install the main and mizzen masts’ steps.

2. Install the upper inwales.

3. Fit the main and mizzen mast partners.

4. Complete and fit thwarts.

5. Turn hull, sand and apply fairing compound.

6. Turn hull upright again, sand and paint the interior. (As many coats as I can manage)

7. Turn hull, sand exterior, mark the waterline and then paint. (Probably more coats than I can manage)

8. Turn hull again, then mark out the decks on plywood using the boat shape as a stencil.

9. Cut out the decks and the holes for the masts.

10. Butt join the side decks to foredeck and sternsheets.

11. Install foam buoyancy fore and aft. Fit decks, drill holes for oarlocks and maybe holes for boat tent ribs. (I’m still undecided on which style of boat tent to choose.)

12. Fit gunwales and bumpkin. (I must remember to fit the locker covers sometime after point 6 and before point 14.)

13. Varnish the decks and gunwales. (They say 10 to 12 coats for a finish like glass—I’ll see how I get on)

14. Launch! As a rowing boat.

15. Make the rudder, (I’m still thinking about that one.) the yoke and the long lath tiller.

16. Make the sails.

17. Make the yards. (Masts will be ex-windsurf for the proto rig.)

18. Rig up. Fit main and mizzen sheets and tackle, cleats, gudgeons and pintles and other bits and bobs.

19. Launch as sailing boat!

20. Have a launch party.

Friday 13 April 2007


It had been a while since I’d windsurfed, January I think was the last time—I drove down to the Ebro Delta for 30 knots of Mestral and wore my arms to over-stretched elastic holding down 4.2 square metres of sail cloth. A 4.2 is a small sail and 30 knots is about its upper limit, after that I’d change down to my smallest sail, a 3.5 which is a tiny, nervous sail for survival sailing in nuclear conditions. It doesn’t come out of its bag very often but when it does it’s usually a memorable session.

It was good to get on the water the other day. With a steady 20 knots out of the east and a 3ft swell I rigged a 5 metre sail and skimmed over the water towards the horizon, leaning back in the harness, hooting with joy as the wind and the spray flew around me.

13 years ago I took up windsurfing as being the simplest and cheapest way of getting on the water. I wasn’t after the thrills at that stage, it was a straightforward desire to potter about on the sea and get a bit of distance on the land. I lived in Barcelona at the time and took my first class at a town north of the city called El Masnou.

13 years ago the sport of windsurfing was living its darkest hour, the drive had been to develop faster and more specialised equipment and the result was that only the real hotshots could make it work. There was a vast difference between the large beginner boards and dedicated planing boards which were unforgiving speed machines. To bridge the skill gap required serious application and many left the sport in frustration. Windsurfing manufactures had cut off the sport’s life blood by alienating its participants.

I didn’t know any of this on the day that I turned up at Masnou marina for my first lesson, I just wanted to go sailing. With fewer people entering the sport there was less onus on instructors. There was no standard teaching method like there is today and instructors were hired by a school if they had windsurfed. Rather like the practice in Spanish primary schools whereby a teacher is assigned to give English on the basis of a blustery fortnight spent in a bed and breakfast in Brighton last summer.

Instructors were left to develop their own methods and mine had a curious one. Their were four of us, two had already completed a course, they could up-haul, sheet in and get going but they couldn’t turn, then there was myself and another fellow who’d never windsurfed. Our instructor tied a string of four boards behind a dinghy and piled us and two sails into the small craft, then we puttered out of the marina and into the open Mediterranean. Just the dinghy ride was bliss for me after the immersed city life I’d been living but even so I thought it odd that we went so far out to sea. As the instructor untied the boards he explained that there was a bathers only area near the beach and as the light, easterly wind was slightly onshore we’d be rapidly blown in if we started off too close. The veterans up-hauled and made towards the shore on a broad reach. Meanwhile the instructor told us our mission; we were to practice our balance on the bare boards. I jumped in and clambered on eager to demonstrate my good balance but the instructor started the engine and zipped off to retrieve the other two who were nearing the watercraft exclusion zone.

Soon the dinghy was but a speck and I gazed over at my companion standing on his board about 30 metres away, I waved then lost my balance and fell in. Boards in those days were long, narrow and very tippy, it was a challenge to climb on from the water but after a few attempts I managed and diligently got to my feet again. Now I concentrated on staying upright and after a while felt I had the measure of the game, by flexing my knees as the swell moved under me it seemed I could stay on my feet indefinitely. Feeling comfortable I looked around. There was the marina to my right with the coastal mountain range of the ‘Serrelada Litoral’ behind, and a distance off to my left, beyond the factories of Badalona, Barcelona’s new Olympic port and, on the southern horizon, some large container ships awaiting clearance to the commercial harbour. It was a nice view and it would have been perfect had I been able to see my companion and the instructor’s dinghy.

It later transpired that the instructor had got impossibly tangled up amongst the bathers as he entered the exclusion zone to retrieve a pupil who’d driven his board up on to the beach. Bellowing instructions and insults he got the lad back into the water and sailing away from the beach but then had to dash off to catch the other one who was flailing about some way off. Apparently, in what must have been a bad moment for the instructor, he drove the outboard over the sail and got a load of Dacron wrapped round the prop. The silent dinghy drifted in to the beach.

My companion, I later found out, paddled the half kilometre back to the shore, ditched his board, walked back to the marina, got in his car and was never heard of again. And I, in my British way, remained standing on my board as I’d been told to do. The current, set up by the latent easterly swell, taking me parallel to the coast and, I noticed with interest more than alarm, slightly out to sea.

No rescue operation was put in motion, no helicopters plied the skies. I was simply picked up, sunburnt, a long hour later by a very peeved instructor who wanted to know what the hell I was doing bearing down on a container ship.

Wednesday 11 April 2007

A glass and a half

I cut out the skeg first thing this morning then began the preparations for glassing the sole. The cloth wasn’t quite wide enough so I cut some strips to fit the full beam, tidied up and organised the relevant tools. I was nervous about the whole operation and though eager to start waited until I definitely had several free hours to hand. Maybe I am learning something.

As I was spreading epoxy on the bottom a couple I hadn’t seen for a year turned up with their four nippers and a dog. I would recommend that anyone feeling lonely or in need of a little human company mix up some epoxy. You’ll be impressed by the results. It was good to see these old friends though our conversation was necessarily brief and somewhat garbled on my part as I was not only rather nervous about running out of time with the epoxy and restraining my own dog, who’d taken a dislike to my visitor’s mutt, but also talking through a large face mask. When Onawind Blue is built I shall award myself an LL.B. in Sod’s law.

The rest of the day went smoothly enough, even if the evening meal was rather late, I glassed the sole making good use of a squeegee and using a minimum of epoxy.

Dry fitting the skeg.

The interrupted coat.

Laying up the glass cloth.

The cloth, wetted out.

Tuesday 10 April 2007

Good-bye Easter

Every conceivable corner of the garden, where the Invisible Workshop is now all too visible, has been buzzing with inquisitive swarms of eager holiday makers whose uninformed prying has made progress impossible. I can handle a few on a good day, Vitalstatistix most of the time, Unhygenix occasionally but the hordes were more than I could manage and I retreated indoors in a fit of humbug.

There aren’t many boat jobs that can be done inside but I did manage to do the braiding on the oars and the turks heads which I found out how to do on this site, linked from All the oars need now is another coat of epoxy.

Today the business men and women are back in Barcelona and the boat builder is back in the workshop. The first job was to cut the skeg out of some ply that I laminated a while ago. But the laminate had warped or had set with a curve. I bent it this way and that to see if there was a possibility of straightening it and snapped it in two before I could find out. So I drew out a new shape using the hull as a template then made a new laminate.

Then I had a long, hard look at the taped seams and decided that they had to be filled and faired if I’m to get anything like a smooth finish. And that took up all the afternoon.

Onawind Blue has received lots of praise over the last few days, a couple of friends have been round specifically to view the boat and each time I have pulled the cover off a small crowd has gathered and both Onawind Blue and I have soaked up the ooohs and ahhhs. Unfortunately praise isn’t the only thing she’s been soaking up recently. She has been thoroughly drenched several times as I played a losing game of ‘catch me if you can’ with the spring showers. Every time the cover was off so that the hull could dry out it rained, then I’d put the cover back on and the sun would come out and so on and so on. However, it did at least establish that Mr Mushroom had sold me bona fide marine ply—anything else would have delaminated. It was no doubt unjust to question Mr Mushroom’s integrity, albeit silently, but having been a sucker for years now, bringing home everything from out of date cement to wine glasses that spontaneously shatter, I’m wary of being sold ‘cat for hare’ as they say out here.

Friday 6 April 2007

Capitaine Ulysse

There are several bottles of champagne and cava knocking about the house but the best one is at the bottom of my tool box, under a fine sheen of sawdust. I don’t know if it’s the best place for storing plonk of this calibre but the flexible organisational structure of the Invisible Workshop permits a degree of domestic overlap. The bottle in question came from a valued friend of mine, Jean-Martial Audy, and I hope to break it on the bows of Onawind Blue at the launch.

It was my cruise to Ibiza last summer with Martial, aboard his boat Capitaine Ulysse that tipped the scales of my boating dream and set in motion the small personal odyssey that is the building of Onawind Blue and the writing of this blog. As such it seems fitting to use Martial’s bottle to launch my waterborne adventure.

Martial is a yachtsman of the Moitessier school of thought—a single-handed, long distance, sea tramp who’s garnered much knowledge and many yarns in his extensive career.

In the 70’s he bought a Chinese junk and coasted down from France to Ibiza. Here he cruised, worked and chartered for the best part of three years before selling up and returning to France to oversee the building of his present boat Capitaine Ulysse. (The junk can still be found in Balearic waters.) Built in Normandy between 1979 and 81 Capitaine Ulysse is one of eight Trisbal 42s. These are tough, blue-water cruisers characterised by their sturdy aluminium hulls, drop keels and fractional rigs.

Our trip was fairly typical of a cruise in the western Mediterranean in that we saw the entire gamut of Mediterranean weather in the 72 hour crossing. From glassy calms to marauding thunder storms of towering cumulus shooting off 50 knot winds, strafing hail and firework displays of ear-splitting proximity; all this contrasting with steady force fours on the stern quarter, dolphins and clear blue skies. In all weathers Martial managed his craft with a gentle, easy-going calm that told of many nautical miles in three different oceans.

In late 81 he sailed away from Fecamp on the Normandy coast and spent the best part of 17 years cruising the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, California, Polynesia and Chile.

He returned by way of Cape Horn but met a storm as he turned left into the Atlantic. The shallow waters over the continental shelf off eastern Argentina jacked up the swell to form savage rollers. Helming Ulysse from the interior steering position Martial felt the stern lift and saw the speed indicator rise to 15 knots as the boat started to surf. But this was a huge wave and as it steepened Ulysse started to slew to one side, to broach to, in one mad second the wave broke, rolling and de-masting the boat.

The damaged Capitaine was towed into Port Stanley in the Falkland Isles where Martial put the conveniently mastless boat in a container for storage and returned to France to re-group. A year later he was back in Port Stanley where he spent three months fitting out Capitaine Ulysse for the journey north. After a spate of bad storms he eventually left, escorting Karen Thorndike, the first American woman to complete a single-handed circumnavigation passing the three stormy capes, in her Rival 36 to the Argentine coast.

Nowadays Capitaine Ulysse leads a calmer life, Martial has carried out various projects to make the boat more comfortable for Mediterranean cruising, a re-designed interior, a larger fridge and a bimini. But there’s no disguising Ulysse’s blue-water pedigree; with sails and centreboards balanced and a lively wind from abaft the beam the Capitaine, galloping among the white horses, shakes manes of spray from the bows.

Capitaine Ulysse and Jean-Martial.