Tuesday 19 June 2007

Onawind Blue

Somehow I scrubbed my pre-launch photos of OB dressed up and pristine, so I’ve spent the afternoon cleaning out the sand and rinsing the salt off her decks and have taken a few more shots.

The thole pins were turned from oak by my step father Bob. Thanks for those Bob, I think they look great. The oars have a tendency to pop off the pins when powering along so I’ll have to remedy that. I haven’t tried the forward rowing position yet but first I have to reinforce the thole pin supports; they’re made from beech but the epoxy coated braiding on the oars is eating into them rapidly, when I think how difficult that beech was to cut I realise how hard epoxy is.

I’m pleased with the wave breaker, which despite being small does its job well without interfering with OB’s sweet lines.

We went sailing with the windsurfing rig in light airs and though decidedly under-powered she came around fine in the tack when lightly loaded. Later, with three men aboard, I had to row round the corners. Jibing was fine with that high clew and loose-footed sail. I think I nearly tipped her over by standing on the side deck but I jumped in the drink before we could find out, much to the relief of my passengers. I’m waiting for photos of that session and will post them in time.

The bench ground its axle into the dust on the way back from the beach so a launching trolley is now a priority. Coveted by Unhygenix since its inauspicious beginnings the bench has served its purpose well, but it’s looking pretty tired now and I’m sure it will be happy to go to that great workbench heaven in the sky where it won’t have to support a progressively heavier boat day in day out.

Mr Mushroom came round and used some colourful Catalan to convey his appreciation of my efforts. Mr M’s got a boat dream locked up in there somewhere and I wouldn’t be surprised if he stopped making doors, windows and chipboard cupboards and turned his attentions to a little motor skiff, to get out from under Mrs Mush’s feet at the weekends. Vitalstatistix has missed all the action, he asked so many times if she’d float that it seems a pity he wasn’t there to witness how categorically she did float.

Postings will be far more sporadic now at the Invisible Workshop, work and other commitments beckon and the summer will probably see me sailing far less than I’d like to. The masts and the sails and hopefully many adventures are still to come, it’s been a pleasure to share the story so far and I’m sure that by googling Onawind Blue you’ll be able to keep up with us.

Monday 18 June 2007

The launch

I forced on 8 coats of varnish in three days, painted on her name and finished off the hardwood pieces with oil and then we were ready to go. But our old friend the Mistral wind gate-crashed launch day in a playful mood, while, to compound matters, a more distant wind was pumping in a rolling swell from the south. Two weeks of flat calm had come to an end and as I stood on the beach that morning with sand whipping about my ankles looking at the spray being torn from the incoming crests I thought, ‘There’s no way Onawind Blue and I are going out in that.’

But all the preparations for the launch were in motion, I’d driven 150 km to collect the band’s instruments, I’d filled shopping carts with beer, cava, wine, rum, anchovies, smoked salmon, cured hams, cheeses, breads and tomatoes. I’d baked red peppers and aubergines to make ‘escalivada’ and my mother in law had made a pile of Spanish potato omelettes. There was no going back and I could only hope that the wind would slacken as the day faded and that the swell would relax a little, but I reserved the right not to launch if the conditions were too adverse. ‘The sea will decide.’ I told people as I decorated the garden.

I hung my tools and the boat plans from the trees, arranged tables and lamps and set up a small stage covered in carpets leaving a space behind for Onawind Blue. I worked with one eye on the wind and with frequent trips to the beach to check on the waves.

At midday the situation looked grim; the Mistral was swinging round to the southwest adding its own short chop to the southerly swell. I moodily ate a sandwich and watched a well reefed yacht track across the horizon. If it wasn’t to be, then fair enough, we’d have the party anyway and have a damn good time.

Preparations continued throughout the afternoon and it as while I was rigging a spotlight in the olive tree that I felt the wind gasp and drop. I dared not look up but finished what I was doing then calmly went to the beach—no wind. It was 5 o’clock and I reckoned I could wait till 9 if necessary for the swell to subside.

People began to arrive around six and I soaked up the oohs and aahs with modest smiles, nods of the head and helpful explanations. As more folk filled the garden the expectation grew, buckets of iced beers circulated and, as the mood rose I checked the sea and my chosen launch spot again.

At eight I decided to go for it. Sizable waves were still coming in but there were long gaps with relative calm between the sets. It would be like a windsurfing launch on a big day; watch the larger waves come in and hit the water as the last one breaks. I wheeled OB out into the street and off we went with about 40 people in tow. We arrived at the beach and soon OB was surrounded by a loose knot of excited spectators. But we were still a distance from the launch spot—a place where a narrow channel crosses the sand bar and takes the oomph out of the waves. With ten or so close friends we carried the boat over the sands and set her down on waters edge.

Older guys who know this beach, who bashed out through waves like these in Optimists when they were in their teens gave me advice on the launch. But I had my plan and the idea was to get out with as little risk as possible.

The boat prepared I shouted a short speech above the noise of the waves. And then my partner, Sunset, smashed that bottle of champagne that’s been hanging around the bottom of my tool box on Onawind Blue’s bow.

Now was the moment and my friends gathered round the boat gripping her sturdy gunnel and waiting for the word from me as I watched the waves come in, waiting for a gap.

As the last wave of a big set broke we ran forward and into the surf, Onawind Blue's bows skimmed over the sea and smashed through the white water. As we got out of our depth I hopped in and stood to the oars. OB responded immediately and her bow rose high over the next wave. She pulled away like a thoroughbred amid whooping and cheers from the beach and then we were on the outside and I evened up my stroke and headed out to sea.

She was a joy to row, comfortable, settled, surefooted and fast. Later people commented that they couldn’t believe how rapidly I was reduced to a speck. A smooth straight wake with no white water and no eddies spread behind us like a ribbon over the sea. But I didn’t want to go too far, it was late and although Onawind Blue seemed to be revelling in the conditions, I felt they were less than perfect and didn’t want push my luck. Besides, now that I was on the outside there arose the question of how the hell I was going to get back in. My biggest worry was that we’d turn side on to the waves and get rolled. I rowed back in to where the waves were breaking but seeing a large set looming I turned back out to sea. This boat tracks beautifully but the trade off is that she doesn’t turn on a sixpence. I cranked her round with a dry throat and we just made it over the last wave before it broke. I came around again, put my weight behind the oars and headed in. As we crossed the sand bar a wave caught up with us. Onawind Blue’s fine stern rose to it and then, to gilt edge our little jaunt, she started to surf. She ripped in towards the beach, an oar popped off its thole pin but we were safe, my friends had waded out to meet us and they bravely bore us in.

The celebrations went on till five o’clock in the morning and, having said goodbye to the last of the well-wishers, I headed indoors to bed. But then I hesitated, I didn’t want to sleep inside. I dug out the inflatable mattress, blew it up and bedded down in Onawind Blue.



Tuesday 12 June 2007

On the home straight

I trial varnished a piece of ply and filler as per Mr Mushroom’s advice and the results were such that I’ve scraped all the filler off Onawind Blue’s decks—I’d rather my shoddy workmanship were on view than some manufacturer’s cruddy product. Mr M recommended another brand of filler but he’s just run out himself and is waiting on a supplier. I’ve got a deadline now so can’t wait for anything or anyone. I worked the decks back to varnishing standard—the ply veneer is getting thin in places—and then a squall blew through out of nowhere bringing huge drops of filthy rain and the sort of wind that, as much as I love the wind, made me curse and splutter. I managed to get the boat covered and when the rain had passed discovered that I had one dirty dot per square inch of deck. I counter attacked immediately with warm water and a sponge and after several dousings the decks came up fine.

Then, despite a children’s birthday party raging in the garden with balls whizzing all over the place, then foam bubbles and streamers, I spent the rest of the afternoon cementing the deck fixtures; the cleats and the wave breaker doodah, with epoxy. And then this morning, after a dry night, I started on the varnish. There are no photos I’m afraid, I keep forgetting to charge the camera batteries. The next published shots will be of a finished OB.

As well as finish the boat the idea is to organise a launch party. But while I’ve mainly been concentrating on the boat the party seems to have organised itself. What I at first envisaged as a subdued affair has snowballed and we have about 60 people coming as well as a band and maybe a firework display later. If I could lay my hands on some at short notice I’d get jugglers, stilt walkers, fire breathers and belly dancers too. A string quartet, a piano on the beach. A troupe of dancers in sailor suits. But this isn’t OB’s style, elegant reserve is more her line.

In an ideal world I’d have a discreet, private launch first; a quiet, early morning row with Onawind Blue. But an ideal world it isn’t and there won’t be enough time. We will be ready by the deadline, touch wood, but with no leeway. I feel confident about the boat but any hiccoughs will now be very public. The last boat I built, when proudly launched at bath time, rolled onto its side like a playful puppy. Obviously I know that’s not going to happen but it’s the sort of image that sneaks in through the back door of my mind when I’m dropping off to sleep and makes my eyes pop wide open.

Sunday 10 June 2007

Roobarb and custard

Well the deck went on fine, then, creaking and groaning, the gunnels. With ratchets straps, clamps, knees, elbows and a mouthful of screws I forced them into position. Then took them off and did it all again with epoxy. I planed and sanded the gunnels to shape and stood back to admire the quality of completeness they bring to the boat. It all looked good, very good, too good, in fact, to last.

I was working in a congratulatory frame of mind, basking in the projected glory of a finished boat, when I did a silly thing, a very, very silly thing. Even the twittering blackbirds were reduced to silence by the mad barking issuing from under the boat. I got to my feet and did half an hour of penitential deck sanding before I could even think straight—installing a self bailer in the cockpit sole I’d cut off the forward end of the skeg.

Ferreting through a pile of scrap for something to rebuild the skeg’s front end I was reminded of a children’s animated TV series called Roobarb and Custard about an enterprising and resourceful dog, Roobarb, who, in the heat of the midday sun, would think up crackpot schemes then disappear to rummage in a shed and rapidly reappear with some fantastic invention. Custard, a sceptical cat, along with a host of colourful birds would look on hoping to enjoy a spot of schadenfreude as Roobarb’s invention spectacularly failed. The series conveyed an atmosphere that is often prevalent round here, though obviously the language in the workshop wouldn’t be suitable for a children’s program.

I repaired and repainted the skeg and, just when everything was going along smoothly again, I upped the ante by naming a launch date. It seems that this has been tantamount to pulling the trigger of the setback gun—there’s been another bout of severe deck staining, pollen and mud seeping through the poliytarp cover, not to mention the copious smattering of bird shit. Every time the swifts swoop by like a squadron of fighter planes I run for the boat cover but the blackbirds are the worst, I don’t know what they’re eating at this time of year but the stains are deep purple. I got the caustic soda out again but had a worrying time of it with acid dripping into the boat and burning the paint. The decks go a beautiful dark colour when they’re wet but there’s some filler I’ve used that stands out in bright pale patches. I bumped into Mr Mushroom in the hardware shop and asked his advice; he recommended that I try varnishing the filler on some scrap and went on to make some very complimentary remarks about the size of my red peppers. I invited him to the launch.

Saturday 2 June 2007

It’s a gas,gas,gas

After what seems like days of interminable faffing; umming, arring, making decisions, hesitating, changing my mind, dithering, cajoling myself to the brink, thinking better of it, having another idea, not writing it down, forgetting it and eventually going back to my original plans, I’ve finished the jobs in places that will be inaccessible with the decks on. And, having assured myself that all considerations have been considered I have, at last, affixed the decks to the hull.

I gathered weights for holding the deck flat while the glue cured and surrounded Onawind Blue with an assortment of gas bottles, large stones and logs. Then, as the day started to cool, I mixed up seven squirts of epoxy. To me this is a worryingly large quantity, and I’d just started to spread it on at an energetic pace when two friends turned up. Luckily they understood the situation and stood back to watch. Now, I don’t know if it’s just me but I find it very difficult to work when I’m being watched, the pressure’s on, I get nervy, I don’t think straight. I laboured on in a flustered fashion, used up the epoxy and mixed up seven more. And then Chief Vitalstatistix arrived.

I haven’t seen him for a while, and I presented him with a wan smile as his rotund form hove into view. Seeing what I was doing, Vitalstatistix began a protracted discourse on epoxy—he told me that it was a two part, petroleum based resin, and that once the two components were thoroughly mixed one only had a limited amount of time to work with the said resin. He was about to tell me how to apply it when I interrupted, ‘Hey Vital,’ I said, ‘How say we apply some of this resin to your mouth, see how long it takes you to shut up?’

No, of course I didn’t really. What, mild mannered me? No, I just grimaced and continued to beaver away.

This was all text book Sod’s law and the job ended up taking much longer than expected. Eventually darkness fell and so I got the lamp out and began tidying up. While I scraped away at the excess resin it occurred to me that I was sitting in my boat, I was inside the space defined by Onawind Blue, my own hand-built boat.

The stars were coming out, Venus shone brightly in the west, chasing the sun beyond the horizon. I looked up at the Pole Star then followed the handle of the Plough back to where Arcturus was rising orange above the rooftops, then let my eyes wander on to find Sirius shimmering in the east. I could hear the sea in the distance and smell the warm textures of the cooling land. Admittedly there was an electric lamp in the boat and I was surrounded by gas bottles, large stones and logs but for a moment I almost believed that I was out there, camping in some quite cove. And then a yellow moon rose, like a fat, happy cheese.

Call me a dreamer, a hopeless romantic, but it was almost more sensory stimulation than I could bear. I downed tools and lay back in the boat.