Thursday 31 May 2007


No, only joking, but with all this foam up front Onawind Blue should keep her bows above water. I’ve installed those long buoyant sausages that children use when learning to swim. I tried some out last summer in a friend’s pool and noticed just how floaty they were; with one sausage behind my knees and another under my back I could float about all afternoon and even drink beer. They’re high density, light weight, easy to cut, look tidy and cost 2€ apiece. I put a block of Styrofoam, which I’d salvaged from another boat, in the bottom, fixed in place with some builder’s foam and then two chopped sausages on top.

It’s very nearly time to fix the decks and I’ve spent much of the day making sure that all the little bits and pieces that will be sealed in the lockers are made and accounted for. I’ll be launching using ex-windsurfing masts and then switching to larger diameter wooden masts when I’ve got round to building them, so I’ve made a set of adapters to take the smaller spars.

I experimented with a breakwater, wave-deflector on the foredeck. I definitely think the boat will need one but this first model interferes with OB’s lines so I’ll have to try something smaller.

Spring has been fruitful for the blackbirds, the trees and hedges are full of their pleasant twittering and the youngsters are now learning to fly. And crap at the same time. Onawind Blue seems to make a natural target and I’m getting a bit fed up at finding black and white goo splattered about her insides. Today though, more than a couple of young birds fell prey to cats and I’ll admit that it was gratifying to see the balance of nature being restored.

Wednesday 30 May 2007

Lat 55º 59’ S, Long 67º 12’ W

I may have mentioned in a previous post that my chronic sea fever started with big ideas about big boats. Nothing too extravagant (though I do remember being enamoured of something 65ft long at one point) but generally I thought that a boat from 35 to 42ft would suit me fine. I fancied a steel or aluminium craft and was continually drawn to rugged, hard-chined boats with fractional rigs, solar panels, and self-steering gear.

And, once I had my boat, I would set out on a circumnavigation—east about and passing south of the three stormy capes: Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn. I read all about the pioneers, the men that sailed out into the unknown; Magellan, Sebastian Elcano, Drake, Thomas Cavendish, William Dampier, Anson, Bouganville, Byron. Men that discovered the shape and form of our world; James Cook, Charles Wilkes and La Perouse, and then the modern circumnavigators, Slocum, Chichester and Knox-Johnson, Moitessier, the Smeetons and the Hiscocks, guzzling the details with the voracious appetite of a half-starved mariner.

While engaged in all this reading and dreaming I worked up a fascination for Cape Horn and any tale about those chilling, furious waters would have me gripped. For over a year I read books exclusively about the sea paying particular attention whenever the tale strayed to the southern latitudes. And as I rode, in a tatty tour bus, through the sparkling Catalan country side, from one sleepy provincial theatre to the next, the wind would be howling in my head, the sea rolling, monstrous waves steepening and the Horn’s distinctive profile looming in the northeast.

From the cover of Felix Riesenberg’s book Cape Horn I took a view of the Cape from the west and had it tattooed on my arm. The tattoo has served me well—whenever trouble’s been brewing, problems with family, work, money, threatening on the horizon, I have looked at my arm and thought of the Cape; a place where my petty woes would pale in an instant and be blown away with the spindrift.

Escapism, relativism, I know, but it’s worked and over the years I’ve spent a lot of time dreaming in those hazardous waters, so much so that I don’t even really want to go there anymore. Apart from the fact that I’ll never get the money, or the boat or, more importantly, the depth of experience necessary to tackle a cruise of those proportions, to be dashing off on a round the world cruise no longer seems relevant. But that’s no problem, there’s no frustration, I’m building my own boat, I’m living my sea dream more than ever, right here in the garden, without even getting wet.

Sunday 27 May 2007

Whisky and soda

While in the main circumstances have conspired to keep me away from this blog and out of the workshop, I have completed a few tasks. There’s a rough cut version of a kick-up rudder and pintles (or gudgeons) fixed to the stern. The rudder shape, which has been likened to an aubergine, is simply the result of what I felt was the best compromise between a not too deep or narrow blade and a kick-up. Any shallower and wider and the rudder wouldn’t have lifted high enough to clear the sand coming in to the beach. It remains to be seen how effective this design will be and I’m prepared to knock another one together if it proves unequal to the task of turning the boat.

The muddy rain and pollen stains on the decking showed no sign of budging under the combined efforts of my small troupe of sanders and I was toying with the unsavoury idea of buying another sheet of plywood and re-cutting the decks, when someone suggested I tried bleach. I didn’t have any in the house and, being Sunday evening, it was unfeasible to buy some, but I found some caustic soda crystals under the sink and used those diluted in hot water. The results were instant and impressive and the dark cloud that had been raining on my bad haircut, lifted.

Onawind Blue had another trip to the beach on a beautiful day with a stiff force 4 blowing out of the east. Not the sort of conditions I’ll be sailing in but great for some photos. I took her off the bench and put her on the sand where she sat revelling in the elements.

I’m now on point 10 of my list and installing buoyancy and fitting the decks comes next. But that list ought to be revised, unforeseen little jobs keep cropping up, it’s rather like climbing a hill—I can clearly see the top not too far away and arrive breathily only to find another summit rising some distance off.

Friday 18 May 2007

El Cesped

It was time to repair the lawn. All the chin scratching while pacing around Onawind Blue has worn pale, grassless tracks, like sheep paths on the hills, across what is otherwise a uniform swathe of lush lawn. And, though this probably isn’t the place to admit it, (or write about it) the upkeep of the lawn is my responsibility, I am the gardener, a dissolute, wanton gardener at best but one who at least knows how far a lawn can be pushed before it jumps.

Amazingly all the dripped globs of epoxy seem to have been absorbed, as have the copious amounts of sawdust but the bald patches had to be tackled before the crowds of summer arrive.

I bought some soil, fertiliser and grass seed, took it home and read the packet. Now I’ve done this several times in the past and don’t really need to read the instructions but the short paragraph on this packet was enough to have me pacing the sheep track, guffawing and chortling.

One of the perks of living in a country where English is not generally spoken is that it often appears in a translated form. Translations can range from the bemusingly surreal to the downright hilarious, especially those found in restaurants. Over the years I’ve been offered, ‘battered squibs’, ‘strawberries with scum’ and, even more alarmingly, ‘fried transparent gobby’ I could imagine that the first was squid in batter, that scum was cream but the fried transparent gobby (how did they keep it transparent?), not only put me off eating in that particular restaurant but had me stumped. Working back through the Spanish I came to the conclusion that it meant whitebait.

The seed packet contained some corkers, starting with the quaint ‘very hart and rustic lawn,’ moving on to the spiritual, ‘it endures well the trample,’ (just like me, I thought) and ending with the weird ‘useful for almost of places: in public and private gardens, in sports fields, in the streets of pith and putt.’ Ahh the streets of pith and putt, alas I know them well and many a man has been ruined there.

It left me wondering if such seeds will actually grow.

Despite the garden some progress has been made.

Dear Pig are you willing, to sell for one shilling, your ring, said the piggy, ‘I will.’ Onawind Blue got a ring through her nose. And a sizeable one at that. Big and strong enough, I hope, to break all those bottles of bubbly among other things.

I’ve realised why those six coats of ivory coloured paint look yellow. Between each layer of new paint OB’s received a coat of pollen. Pollen is everywhere. A savage rainfall worked its way through the boat cover and, mixed with pollen, stained the decks in the manner of a mattress that you might expect to find in a boarding school for small boys. It will need a deal of sanding if I’m to finish with varnish. For the meantime I butt joined the side decks to the fore and aft sections and epoxied the underside then left these two grim fellows to flatten out the warp.

Sunday 13 May 2007

Decks ‘n’ bugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll

Amongst other setbacks we’ve had; baby frogs, snails, ants,and many children…

But finally, decks. Cut not fitted.

And, though I say it myself, phoar!

Tuesday 8 May 2007

The waterline

It wasn’t easy to mark the waterline. What I wanted to do was place the boat on its sole and go round the boat marking the hull, at the correct height with a pencil, fixed in a block of wood. But I needed a totally flat surface for this and I don’t have one of those. So, knowing or hoping or imagining that the bow and stern will just kiss the water, I started by looking at the boat from a distance while holding a metal ruler horizontally at arms length. Trying to keep the boat and the ruler in focus at the same time was taxing but it gave me an idea of where the line was supposed to go. Then I laid a long, straight edge across the highest (actually the lowest but as the hull’s upside down, the highest) part of the bottom and measured the vertical distance between the straight edge and the bows and the straight edge and the stern. Then I went round the boat measuring this height at short intervals and leaving pencil marks. I laid a length of string around the hull coinciding with the marks and retreated with my ruler to a fair distance. Again holding the ruler up, I could judge if the string was in the right position. It naturally hung in a curve that didn’t match the pencil marks so I fixed it in place using small pieces of masking tape. Then retreated again, checked and adjusted the line and finally marked it with tape.

I suppose that marking this line and painting the bottom red is a bit of a nonsense really. It’s not going to make the boat sail any better, there’s no way of knowing that it’s actually in the right place until the hull hits the water and it makes for a slower and trickier paint job.

It looks good though, a tad serious for a boat this size, but good.

Onawind Blue’s red knickers.

Monday 7 May 2007

Dreaming of the day

Slanting dawn sunlight throws flecks of orange over a smooth sea. A gently rocking wooden boat, low to the water, shudders slightly as its occupant heaves his recumbent form onto one elbow and scans the bright horizon. The last waft of a dying breeze from the land sends a slow wave of iridescence through the olives and pines before gusting over the water, carrying the resonant throb of cicadas and a farewell hint of rosemary and thyme. Passing the boat the warm wind picks up the scent and sound of coffee chuckling in the pot and bears them out to sea.

The coffee’s drunk with yesterday’s bread, the last of the butter and a thick spread of sweet, peach jam. A knife and a cup are rinsed over the side, despatching the small boat’s reflection, a piece at a time, on broadening ripples. The bedding is folded and stowed, crumbs are collected in a damp sponge which, when squeezed over the side, breaks the clear view through the transparent water to the white, sandy bottom where a cuttlefish scuttles to the boat’s shadow.

The anchor soars up from the sea bed in a silent cloud of sand. Oars are shipped as the sun rises quickly into the new day and the fine lined, narrow boat glides out of the small bay, the drip and splash of the blades echoing back from the rocks.

Now the broad sea clinks and slaps down the boat’s side, the bows rise and fall to the gentle roll of the water’s welcome and the masts draw mute circles on the domed, blue roof of sky. Cool eddies gather into a light wind that is drawn to the shimmer of heat lifting from the waking land. The boat puts its nose to the breeze and a balanced lug sail rushes up the main. The halyards tied off, the centreboard down, the mizzen set, a hand on the tiller, another on the sheet, and the craft bears away, keeping the breeze just forward of the beam. A rush and a gurgle, a splash of white water sprinkles the decks. The skipper leans back, adjusts the set of the sails, tastes the salt on his lips and grins widely at the sky.

Thursday 3 May 2007

Things to do while watching paint dry

An overcast morning was ideal for applying the second coat of primer, but the rain arrived shortly afterwards. Looking like a barrow boy transporting a white whale, I had a brisk trot with the bench and Onawind Blue to our habitual shelter under somebody’s large balcony. Though even there the slanting rain sought us out for an oblique drenching. Drying her off as the shower let up with pristine white towels purloined from Hotel Victoria, Ibiza, I could have been mistaken for a masseur of cetacean mammals.

Later, between the showers and the towelling, I made some bits from a piece of beech that I’ve had knocking about for years waiting for just such an occasion. First some supports for the oarlocks.

And then some cleats. One of the things I’ve learnt during this build is to make templates and worry out any problems with shape or design on scrap ply before moving on to the choice wood. No great shakes, but ultimately it means far less swearing in the workshop, which is good for my pocket since the children, quick to pinpoint a lucrative scheme, have introduced fines for foul language. A flurry of expletives hurled heavenwards can cost me up to 10€—nearly enough for a pot of paint. So if Onawind Blue’s going to have as many coats as she deserves I better mind my f-ing gob.

The cleats had an inauspicious start.

But cleaned up nicely.

I went on to make two pieces which will be scarfed on to the gunnels to accommodate the bow. The front end will be rounded.

More painting tomorrow, weather permiting.

Wednesday 2 May 2007

No photo finish

The interior was painted last week. There are no photos, I forgot to take them before I turned the hull and although I’ve turned the boat upright several times since then, to show admirers the insides, it hasn’t jogged my memory sufficiently to reach for the camera. It maybe a subconscious reaction of mine: I am not very happy with the finish.

Such is the nature of learning that no sooner have I completed a task—and it is irrevocably cemented in epoxy—than a better way of doing it occurs to me or, with the slow dawning of the bleeding obvious, all that I’ve read, the advice, the dos and don’ts, swims into focus.

I am kicking myself over those sagged fillets, the unfeathered tape and the messy corners. Naively I thought the paint would cover up the worst, but actually it has made the lumps, bumps and craters stand out even more, but then I’d read about that too.

I have been over compensating on the exterior. But just when the fairing looked like it might go on for ever I stopped and applied a coat of primer.

It doesn’t look marvellous in the photo. The hull was very hot, the sun was beating down and the primer was drying even as I rolled it on. I’ve read about that somewhere too.

Tomorrow’s coat will be applied to a cool hull in the shade of the olive tree.