Saturday 20 March 2010

A boat for all reasons

I feel I haven’t so much been working on OB over the past couple of weeks as gently communing with her. I know it’s hokum but I’ve always anthropomorphised my boat. Of inanimate objects I have known she is by far the most lively. And while stripping the varnish back to wood or uncovering voids (or a cracked epoxy fillet hiding soggy wood!!) I’ve been forced to consider the build quality.

She’s the first boat I’ve ever built and it shows. I have no problem with this however, and nor does OB. It was a steep and slippery learning curve.

I learnt a lot over the six-month build and with the experience I gained I’m more qualified to effect good repairs. This awareness of my greater skill has led me to speculate on other boats. (Though not around OB, obviously. Don’t want to offend her.) There are some real beauties out there and hopefully I’ll be around for long enough to give one or two a try.

For the moment though my situation hasn’t changed since I jotted down the brief that led me to build OB. And, given that brief, I still haven’t been able to find a more suitable craft. Well, not until Gavin Atkin reworked the drawings and produced the Light Trow Mark 2.

I’ve had a sneak preview of the drawings and can see that with more built-in buoyancy, self-draining mast steps and stitch and glue construction she’ll be even more suited to easy building and effective cruising. I gather that Gav is going to release the plans soon and for free in Water Craft magazine and at They’re well worth a serious perusal… There’s a lot of fun to be had with a boat like this and now that the Light Trow is a proven design I expect it will gain the following it deserves.

Friday 19 March 2010

Where would we be?

One of my neighbours made it clear that he had a problem with me working on OB in the communal garden. Fair enough, I said, I’ll get the boat out of the garden, but what exactly is the trouble? As I listened to his argument my eyes flicked between his jugular and the chisel in my hand. Where would we be, he asked, if everybody did their boat up in the garden? Unwittingly he’d chosen a line of reasoning calculated to get blood throbbing into my head.

‘Where would we be if?’ can be a good question. Where would we be if everybody owned a car? Where would we be if everybody ate tuna fish? Or cod? Or wanted levis and nike trainers? But it’s not the question to ask the small guy tinkering on his boat when he alone forms 15% of the local boat owning population and is the only person with a boat small enough to fit through the garden gate.

I made a list of all the jobs I wished to complete before the next weekend when I would get OB out of the garden. Sanding, sanding, priming, sanding, painting, sanding, painting, sanding, varnishing, sanding, varnishing and so on. And as the week nears its end I find that most of the items on the list remain to be done. Particularly the sanding.

Lists are amorphous things, expanding and contracting daily. More often they’re written to clarify rather than to follow and we list writers should retain the right to change and abandon lists as the situation requires. If not they can become the most terrible dictators.

So as the weekend draws near and the work on OB is far from complete I ask myself—Where would we be if we all followed lists to the letter? Where would we be if we all did what we said we were going to do?

But I do generally do what I say I’m going to do and so the boat is out of the garden and work is suspended until next week.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

‘The uncharted coasts of the human spirit’

A long-awaited copy of William H Longyard’s A Speck on the Sea arrived this morning. With more than 70 accounts of big adventures in small boats I couldn’t resist plunging in immediately. Now on page 40 it is proving to be everything I hoped it would be—well researched with a gripping subject matter.

Being a Mediterranean rowing story the first full account, William Okeley’s 150-mile journey from Algiers to Mallorca in 1644, is easy to relate to. After four years enslavement in North Africa, (No, I couldn’t relate to that bit.) Okeley and several companions built a cloth-covered ‘folding’ rowing boat, which they sneaked out of the city in pieces, assembled on the beach and so escaped from Algiers and slavery.

Heading due north contrary winds hampered their initial progress and when dawn broke on the first day they were still within sight of Algiers. After four days rowing (this is the part that I could relate to) they were exhausted. On the verge of giving up they came upon a sleeping turtle, which they divided among themselves and, so sustained, rowed on to Mallorca, which they reached two days later.

One story that doesn’t appear to feature in A Speck on the Sea is that of Sebastian Näslund. His story is one that I seem to stumble upon every now and then via this tantalisingly short youtube clip.

Näslund is a Swedish sailor and freediver who built a 14ft boat and, in 2004, set sail from Sweden to cross the Atlantic. He then sailed his craft ‘Arrandir’ back to Sweden.

The book of the journey ‘Ensam met havet’ is available in Swedish. According to the website it focuses on the inner journey, the loneliness and the character building that such a voyage provides. Which reminds me of the Webb Chiles line ‘If a sailor doesn’t learn anything more from the sea than how to reef a sail, the voyage wasn’t worth making.’

Multi-talented Näslund appears to major in freediving. He has been down to -74m on one breath. He has written a freediving booklet titled Bloodshift—an approach to expert freediving. From the blurb, ‘It (Bloodshift) assumes that you are in it for the lifestyle, and if you are not, the text tries to give you the tools that are needed to make freediving a way of living, on land as in water.’ It’s sounds as if the manual may have a broader application as inspiration for anyone thinking of exploring their limits. What Webb Chiles (again) called ‘the uncharted coasts of the human spirit’.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Dents, dings and voids

Gouges caused by stones in the sand are acceptable wear for a beach boat. The dings caused by the trolley are less justifiable. I’ve read about the value of a suitable trailer and a decent boat cover and really it seems ironic that OB sustains more damage on land than at sea. The trailer and cover have long been on unwritten lists but…

trailer damage

Poking at a hairline crack I uncovered a void in the plywood. Following it back the ply opened up alarmingly right across the lower chine. Other cracks inside the boat revealed equally dramatic voids and I found myself worrying about the ultimate longevity of OB while cursing Mr Mushroom and his exterior grade ply.
a void
Later on I saw Mr M and found it impossible to maintain my indignation in the light of his enthusiasm for my boating adventures. He explained that OB’s photo hangs in his hallway and that he tells guests how one of his customers built a boat with wood he’d sold. Bless him.

I bought some Russian pine from him, for the new oars.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Starting work

To turn OB over and work comfortably something or a couple of somethings were needed to support her. The bench with wheels on which she was built (and which Unhygenix was so fond of) was cannibalised to make the launch trolley. Last time she had her bottom seen to she rested on a gunwale and leant against a tree. For this year’s more prolonged work a sturdier something had to be made.

I built a pair of trestles from driftwood and an old park bench, turned OB over and evaluated the work to be done.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Ode to an old oar

Don’t worry, no poetry. But that old oar, washing in and out with every wave seemed to warrant a few lines. Traditional Catalan oars had appeared here just a few days before and now there was half a one right there in the water. The loom and handle had gone, just the shaft and blade remained, thoroughly stripped of paint after doing time in the shorebreak.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

The End of the Line

The film by Rupert Murray after the book of the same title by Charles Clover has a clear message. If we don’t change the current situation there will be no fish in 48 years time.

The oceans are in a mess and, as the film says, this has happened on our watch.

The end of the line focuses largely on the decimation of blue fin tuna, illegally fished in huge quantities in the Mediterranean and shipped to Japan where a single fish can fetch upward of 100,000 dollars. Mitsubishi is one of the main buyers. They have 60,000 tons of frozen tuna ready for market after the species becomes extinct.

Cod hasn’t recovered in the 18 years since the moratorium of 1992. And there’s no reason to suppose tuna will be able to regenerate either. Apparently once a predator loses its place in the food chain it is soon filled by another species. Cod’s once indisputable position in the hierarchy has gone.

Many other grim facts are revealed in the 82 minutes, however, there is a positive side. Alaska, New Zealand and Iceland have all developed sustainable fisheries. The film makes the point that if this issue can find its place in our consciousness, rather like climate change has, we will be able to minimise the damage.