Tuesday 28 October 2008

Turned pins

An unusual thole pin spotted in the cosmopolitan capital of Barcelona. In the up-to-the-minute, fashion conscious city the dictates of la mode don’t stretch to rickety old row boats. Refreshingly you can still use an old chair leg if you wish.

Monday 27 October 2008

From rudder to rudd

While gathering courage to start on OB’s mast I wanted to do something about her rudder. I reduced the size of the foil some time ago but, being in a hellfire hurry to get on the sea, didn’t protect it adequately. The smaller rudder has performed well but after much use water penetrated the single coat of epoxy and black spots of rot dotted the trailing edge.

I was about to build a new blade but instead decided to lop the back edge off. I’d been toying with the idea for some time but admit that I based this possibly rash snip to OB’s nether parts solely on intuition. I doubt the logic is sound but it goes as follows. Unlike me, OB is a well-balanced craft; she can sail herself on all points of sail to windward of a beam reach. By sheeting in the mizzen sail she will turn into the wind and by backing the mainsail before she stalls I can make her tack. I can leave the rudder tied off amidships and sail without having to touch the tiller. I can even raise the blade out of the water and still sail in straight lines, albeit with slightly less speed and windward efficiency. Sailing off the wind I need to steer and it is when the breeze is healthy that the helm becomes uncomfortably heavy. In a small, flat-bottomed boat with low freeboard it is as well to reef early and a weighty rudder is one of the boat’s ways of asking for less sail. By reducing the size of the foil I hope to delay reefing every so slightly on downwind runs.

A boat that’s trimmed with weather helm, as OB is, will try to turn towards the breeze when sailing downwind. OB can be given some lee helm, thus enhancing her performance when sailing broad, by striking the mizzen sail—though I would expect it to make more difference than it actually does. When sailing downwind the tiller needs to be held strongly to prevent the bows swinging round into the breeze, the question is, exactly how much foil does she need to stay on course? I have no idea. But I was lucky enough to do a fair amount of downwind sailing over the summer and my feeling is that OB champs at the bit. She could hold on to more sail for a tad longer without putting excessive strain on the masts and sails. I know I’ve had one mast failure but that was due to an unfortunate grouping of knots in the laminate and not to the stresses of the wind. What is more the new knot-less mast will be slightly more robust.

Of course boats also depend on the balance between the centreboard and the rudder for lift and lateral resistance and I don’t want to interfere with OB’s performance on other points of sail. So, will OB be freer, looser and faster off the wind with a smaller rudder? Or will she be unmanageable? Will a snip to the blade sweeten her or make her crank? I can’t wait to find out.

However, to test the new rudder I shall need to sail and to sail I shall need a new mast. And before I build a new mast I still have to find my boatbuilder’s hat.

Saturday 18 October 2008

El levante

The silent seas that follow the end of the pleasure boat season signal a return of the fish and the other world that exists under the still-warm waters is re-inhabited. Hoping to do some late season snorkelling on a recent trip to Ibiza I took my mask and tube only to find a levante wind blowing rain and waves onto the east coast of the island.

Sitting on a rock watching the show unfold in Talamanca Bay I saw one boat break away from its moorings and end up on the beach, luckily avoiding a concrete spit. Then a small open boat moored near the breaking waves filled with water and sank while the other craft danced and weaved like Ibiza’s most ardent clubbers.

Low pressure over the Tyrrhenian sea occurs two or three times a year around the spring and autumn equinoxes. The conditions conspire, the isobars converge and wind brings waves trundling across the maximum fetch of western Mediterranean. This levante is not the same as the more famous ‘levante’ (often anglicised to levanter) that, caused by differences in temperature between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, blows fiercely in the straits of Gibraltar. But despite its lack of renown the results of a bout of levante, depending on the depth of the depression, can blow the Med’s millpond reputation out of the water.

In autumn when the sea is still warm the levante brings a clogging humidity. Veils of penetrating salt mist ghost inland, rust flowers flourish and the evening sky is a watercolour of nicotine and jaundice. For those affected by the weather the wind usually raises the spirits but the levante, blowing over a queasy sea, comes with an aftertaste of disease and decay. The mestral and tramuntana from the north are violent and unequivocally dangerous but they are salad fresh, heathly, uplifting, energising winds. The levante, though rarely as strong, serves up over-salted doom on a platter of dread.

Large waves gnaw at the shore and sands shift in the raging undertow. All ports on this coast are built with a sturdy wall to the easterly swell. Occasionally, however, currents sweep sand across harbour mouths forming sandbars that turn the waves to towering monsters. A few years ago, with a levante blowing the Guardia Civil were called out of Torredembarra port to aid a windsurfer, their boat was swept up by the waves at the harbour entrance and dashed onto the rocks. Thankfully there were no fatalities. But in 1970 a sandbar forming just off the harbour mouth at Arenys de Mar, north of Barcelona became the scene of tragedy as two yachts were returning to their home port having dropped out of a regatta. I read about it at El Mar és el Camí.

The levante has now past and the sea is calm, I have snorkelled (the sea is still just warm enough) from an anchored OB, swimming minefield carefully through clouds of jellyfish, undulating like the falling blossoms of grotesque glass trees.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Where’s my hat?

We all have labels hanging round our necks and mostly they are not the ones that we’d choose. We live with a selection of identities that have been foisted upon us, like the ill-fitting, cast-off clothing of a gawky cousin. Clownish and uncomfortable we play our roles as best we can until we are able to shrug them off at the end of the day and slide into the fireside slippers—or the leopard skin leggings—that are our real selves.

I have always frantically rebelled when I’ve felt pigeonholed, madly reversing out of any cul-de-sac with a label at the end, home-schooler, alternative, ex-pat, truck driver, gardener, British. With the exception of a few whistle-blowing authoritarians who embrace their roles to the extent of writing parking fines for cars, illegally parked in their dreams, nobody is simply one persona.

A size too small for most of the roles I’m called upon to play I am surprised to find the boatbuilder garb a good fit—although I don’t know that I’ve earned the right to wear it. Add a sailor’s feather to the boatbuilder’s cap and I really feel quite dandy (though I look a bit of a jerk).

At ease in this guise it’s a pleasure to be back in my invisible workshop after a long break. I haven’t done much other than stare at a solid length of lumber, wondering how I should go about converting it into OB’s new mast. I learned a lot when I made the last mast, how to eight-side, sixteen-side and eventually make a square section round, how to achieve a smooth taper along its length and how to install a little pulley in the top. But, like with everything I’ve built, a sensation that I could have done better remained and I vowed that if ever I got the chance to do it again I’d build a mast to be proud of. Trouble is I can’t quite remember what aspects I wanted to improve. I didn’t write them down nor did I record how I did all the eight-siding and tapering.

And as I stood up with an iron oxide-spotted tenon saw in my hand, having rummaged through my box of blunt and rusting tools, I saw that once again I was wearing the shabby headpiece of the corner-cutting constructor of gimcrack shelving that threatens every project undertaken in the invisible workshop.

I decided to postpone the mast building until I remember what I’m supposed to do and have sharpened my tools. And in the meantime I’ll look for my cap.