Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boat Renovation Stung into Action

In a previous post I highlighted differences in attitudes towards doing up an old boat. Preservation, Conservation or Renovation. A good friend and well respected reader and a blogger in his own right, (The Unlikeley Boat Builder) suggested that in my case 'prevarication' might be more appropriate term. He might as well have said ‘Just get on with it why don’t you?’. I can take a hint.

So, the last few dry days have been spent taking home every bit of moveable wood from the boat (to sand and treat in relative comfort) and working on the rubbing strake to try to improve and protect it before the worst of the winter comes. The original manual for the boat describes the wood as ‘African Teak’ and further research on the internet suggests that this was a euphemism for Iroko. According to the internet, it is a teak-like wood but slightly courser and more brittle.

The rubbing streak  was sound but dirty and neglected so I opted for sanding to begin with and I was pleasantly surprised how little effort was required to get back to new looking wood. I used a Boch detail sander for this job with 80 grade sandpaper to get at the worst, followed by 120 grade to smooth it out before applying a preservative.

Firstly a few comments on the Boch. This is my third sander in as many months – in renovating the house I have used and burned out a Black and Decker and a McAlister. For the boat therefore I chose to spend a little more money in the hope that the increased investment would pay off through longer life. So far so good – although already I’ve had to replace the sanding pad. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. I’ll keep you posted.

Having got back to clean wood the big question had to be about the choice of preservative. There is a good deal of literature suggesting that varnish is not good with teak or teak-like woods. They’re too oily and varnish won’t adhere, so the argument goes. On the other hand, there seems to be an equal number of people who advise against oil coatings – according to them, they don’t last and they don’t produce the mirror like shine you can get with varnish. Others, long distance voyagers in particular, suggest avoiding all oils and varnishes in favour of paint which is a much tougher coating. So what to do? I was especially confused because yet another school of thought suggests that if you really want to preserve wood you should epoxy it as a kind of GRP sheathing.

In the end, I decided that for this year at least, I would use a variety of techniques and then, having found the best one, apply that technique everywhere ‘as and when’ I had occasion to renew or refresh wooden parts. SO, for the rubbing strake I have applied a new International Paints Product known as Woodskin. 

According to the literature, it is part wood sealer, part oil, and, so long as you sand between coats, you can add more coats whenever required. A can cost me 44 Euros so it had better be good! The manufacturers say it can be used as a stand-alone product or a base prior to varnishing. I’ve got two coats on and I’ll varnish before launching. For now though, I’m pleased to have seen an improvement and to have got some protection into and onto the wood, which has come up a beautiful honey colour. Not shiny, but with enough sheen to glow in the winter sunlight.


Saturday, 15 December 2012

Philosphical Approaches to Boat Renovation

Please forgive the title given to this post, many of us Anglo Saxons have a deep mistrust of anything resembling philosophy, Brits tend to leave such thoughts to our European cousins. As an ex-pat Brit living in France however, I have to give some thought to it in order to have a chance of being understood.

In a previous life I was privileged to have something to do with government support for cultural affairs, museums, art galleries, theatres and such. The French take their ‘culture’ much more seriously than the English and therefore I was not surprised to find that my attempts to renovate an old boat provoked some discussion, debate and serious philosophical questioning from within my circle of French friends.

Firstly, they wanted to know what I was doing, not in the practical sense of painting, or sanding but more philosophically – what is the driving philosophy which determines the methodology which will guide the project to the achievement of its ultimate goal?

Now to a simple Englishman, the question seemed more complicated than the answer and so before giving a response that might define me as a philistine for ever more, I decided to consult with past colleagues and acquaintances in the cultural business in order to better understand the question.

No doubt you are all now wondering what philosophical driving force governs the chosen methodology for ‘doing up this old boat’, and maybe some of you engaged in similar projects have begun to ask the same question of yourselves – or maybe not!

So, before you lose sleep or the will to live, here is how I understand the question and how I have chosen to answer it.

OK, well firstly, there are any number of reasons for wanting to ‘do up’ an old boat. You could try to argue that there is a heritage driver, something about preserving, valuing and celebrating the past as a valid activity in its own right. You could argue it is a ‘green’ act of recycling. You could argue it is a sort of political statement about self-sufficiency and freedom. So long as you don’t admit that you are driven by the absolute need to get afloat at minimum cost, (Arguments about funding or the lack of it aren’t acceptable in this context) you could try to argue that all three points have equal value – but you wouldn’t get very far because each reason has its own implications for the approach you take. There are three key words here – conservation, preservation and renovation.

Conservation, so my cultural friends tell me, is about using as few rare or precious resources as possible, in order to ensure that supplies of those resources are not wasted or lost. Laminated plywood therefore might be acceptable here as a replacement for solid mahogany, because it conserves precious stocks of hardwood timber. If you are committed to preservation however, you are driven to guard and maintain objects and materials in their original form, so a solid oak beam has to be replaced with a solid oak beam. Renovation is, as the word suggests, about the renewal or improvement of objects to sustain their usefulness without necessarily preserving or conserving anything. So, am I conserving, preserving or renewing?

It would be difficult to argue my efforts are about preservation in the sense that a museum would use the word because modifications have already been made to this vessel in the form of an outboard well and a new rudder configuration. This boat is already radically different to the Nomad as originally designed and launched.

Conservation then? Maybe. Certainly I’m making use of an old boat rather than buying a new one.

Renovation? Yes, I suppose, she will be renewed but not in her original form.

I think my line with the philosophers will be that a new term is needed, an expression which more adequately describes the philosophy – lets just say ‘I’m doing her up!’


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Boat Renovation - A Faltering Start

 Check out new Quiz for Christmas page and a new recipe from Susan

Winter has finally arrived in Plouer Sur Rance, icy rain, hail with the odd flash of lightening to add drama to the occasion. First steps were to empty the boat of all its gear and try to make an evaluation of its worth. Sadly there is much to jettison, perished lifejackets, broken compass, out of date flares, and depth sounders that came out of the ark.

There is good news however, the mast and sails are all in good condition and the berth cushions are as new.

The most frightening part of the project seems to be the electrical systems which have been changed, altered and added to over the years since this old boat first kissed the water in 1968 or 69.

Having decanted most of the gear, the next most obvious job was to clear out accumulated water in the bilges. I set to with a bucket but soon found the bilges too restricted to accommodate the bucket, fill it and lift it out without spilling a good deal of water back into the boat. In the end I resorted to using a large sponge to soak up the water and then drain it into a bucket on the cabin sole, a slow dirty and cold process.

Following that I decided to take another look at these worrying electrical wires and guess what? I found a switch just behind the bulkhead. Well, what do you do when you find an unlabelled hidden switch? Exactly, press it and see what happens. In my case it activated an electric bilge pump in perfect working order. It could have cleared the bilge in two effortless minutes if I hadn’t already spent two oily hours working on its behalf. There is a lesson here – the plumber’s equivalent of the famous woodworking advice – measure twice, cut once.

The temptation now is to keep working on the interior, sorting out the electrics, making her comfortable and boaty, but I think I’ll take another route – winter is here and the priority must be to preserve and protect what I have – so next job will be to clean sand and get some wood protection on the teak rubbing strake, get some polish onto the newly painted green hull and to clean and protect the topsides. I’ll worry about making this boat pretty once I am sure that she won’t suffer further degradation due to the season.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Boat Renovation – First Steps

Well, lots of advice received about how to set about renovating an old GRP boat. Lists and sequences are important and the temptation is to dive in before a proper project plan has been made. John Alberg (the Unikely Boat Builder), as usual, provided some very sound and practical suggestions based on years of experience. John is a guy to ignore at your peril!

He implied that there is always a temptation to get into cabin refurbishment and renovation when, in reality, the important thing is to make sure your boat is safe and seaworthy. Comfort and aesthetics can come later, especially if time is limited.

As I explained in my last post, time wasn’t limited when I embarked on this project, but it became very limited when I took delivery of the boat. Delivery date coincided with a critical phase of house renovation and a call back to the old office to undertake a project or two. To make matters worse, winter is just around the corner.

So, in the next week or two I intend to take John’s advice and check the bits that matter – mast rigging, ropes, sails, engine etc. But even then, where to start? Well, this old tub came with lots of equipment – some of which may work and some which I wouldn’t want to rely on. The compass for example is ‘fixed’ at 280 degrees no matter what direction the boat happens to be pointing. 

So to begin I have taken off a couple of barrow loads of stuff to perform some kind of triage – assess what works, what might be made to work and what needs throwing away. I suspect I’ll be doing a lot of throwing away.

 The VHF is ancient with very few working channels. Several lifejackets are perished and there are two cookers. One seems to have been cannibalised to make repairs to the other. My real concern however, is the electrics. The wires resemble a tangled spider’s web rather than anything else. Well, if you want to make an omelette, first you have to break the eggs! I’m tempted to rip out all the wires and start again. There is a book ‘The 12 Volt Bible’ – think I need to order it.

Once the boat is clear and I have room to move, I can start thinking about the priority jobs that will get me afloat in spring.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

New Boats & London Buses

Londoners often comment that you can wait hours for a bus and then three will appear all at the same time. There was a TV programme about this recently where the mathematics of the phenomenon were explained and yes it seems that buses do have a power of attraction to each other. I couldn’t hope to replicate the maths to explain it but essentially if buses leave the same location at say ten minute intervals along the same route, they will tend to bunch up during the course of their journey. The first bus has to stop at every stop, the second bus less so, because the first bus has picked up all the passengers. In effect the later buses tend to travel faster and catch the first.

What has this to do with buying a new boat, well not a lot except that having spend a fairly lazy year looking for a new boat, and renovating a house in France – and guess what – a number of factors coincide to make this not the ideal time to become the owner of a boat requiring major work. Firstly, having stepped out of mainstream nine to five full-time work, I now find myself in demand as a sort of fixer, and I have just agreed to undertake a project described as ‘maybe ten days work’, Well, already I know it’ll take a good deal longer than that.

Secondly, the house renovation has reached a critical stage. The ground floor is wet cement, I’m ‘camping’ on the upper floors, access via a ladder, cooking on a single burner camping stove and washing up in the bath. And finally, winter is on the doorstep – with lots of rain and wind – not the perfect weather for renovating anything – house or boat. And so I look back to those idilic wasted days of summer and autumn when I should have been getting on with things rather than dreaming.
Still the good news is that the boat is here with a beautifully painted green hull and she is parked up in the prettiest boatyard I have ever seen.

First job is to make a kind of list, I guess, of all the obvious tasks, and then determine to best order of work. Actually, two lists might be better than one - a list for dry days and a list for wet ones. A bonus with this boat is a charcoal stove in the cabin so no matter how cold and wet, I should still be able to move something forward. Who knows, if the house renovation doesn’t pick up speed I may have to relocate to the boat for a while anyway.

The delivery, by the way, was pretty uneventful but there was one funny incident when I met Mike at a pre-arranged rendezvous so that I could direct him for the final few miles along the back-roads to the boatyard.

We had agreed to meet at Joe’s bar, by the harbour at Plouer. Joe buys the drinks from the local supermarket and sells them from his trailer on the quayside. Mike’s wife who accompanied Mike, asked Joe for a coffee. Well he tried his best, borrowing a spoonful of Nescafe from the local marina office, a couple of sugars from the boatshed next door and using his microwave to get some heat into it. There was no milk – but well, if you ask for something exotic, as Joe explained, you need to give him a bit more notice.


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Buying a Boat

Checkout new posting on Essential Reading and Quiz Pages - Updates for the Galley Page coming soon!
SO, I’m waiting for my boat to be delivered with a shiny newly painted hull and I’m hoping that the paint job is up to standard. I’ve put a good deal of faith in this guy to deliver on this and would hate to have to renegotiate the deal because his skill at painting isn’t up to it.

Meantime, I need to acquire a whole raft of DIY skills if I am to launch within my cost target. Suddenly I need to become a plumber, electrician, mechanic, woodworker, painter, and I need to understand glass fibre.

Now this may be escapism, but my natural inclination is to resort to books and read up on the subjects. It would be helpful of course if I knew the sequence of tasks facing me, then my reading could be ‘timely’, i.e. read about it tonight, do the job tomorrow. One of the frustrations of my previous life was that the Department would introduce new software and on occasion I might need to use it maybe four times per year. So, I’d undertake the training and then have no practical use for it for maybe three months – by which time, I’d forgotten the training.

Three things I do know however:

The boat (apart from the hull) will be in a sad state and will require cleaning and polishing at least. Large areas will also need painting but I’m hoping to avoid using paint where-ever I can.

From what I have seen of the boat, she will need a new electrical system

There will be woodwork to do

So, I now have a collection of books on order and one or two have been delivered. I’ll review and post notes on the ones I find most useful next door on the Essential Reading Page, and the jewels of information, hints and tips I discover, will be posted here. So, if you’re interested in getting afloat, it may help you avoid pointless reading.

As usual, all comments are gratefully received especially if they offer, different, easier or cheaper solutions.

Here’s one I picked up from John Almberg on the ‘Unlikely Boatbuilder Blog

Varnishing – cheap brushes shed hairs and are a pain – they can completely ruin a good job – BUT you can use them IF you comb them first. So, get a cheap brush and comb it vigorously until it stops shedding hairs (two minutes maybe?) and then she’s as good as a much more expensive item.

Well, that’s something I’ll definitely try!


Friday, 26 October 2012

Boat Renovation

How do you eat an elephant? This seems to be the big question for us at the moment. A boat that you want to fit out for cruising seems to have multiple aspects. There are the obvious issues about hull, deck, keel, rudder, sails and mast – is she sound how will she behave – but then other thoughts crowd in – are the seacocks safe? What about the hoses and clips? Then, there is an engine and fuel system to be considered. What about the electrics and electronics, and the sea toilet, and the plumbing for the galley, and ropes and rigging, and the state of the woodwork and the gas pipes and connectors, the cooking and heating systems ... and ... and... and.

AND suddenly a simple sailor has to become at least competent in a whole range of skills and disciplines – maybe it was always that way. So new thoughts crowd in – do I have an adequate tool box and space to do the work? Do I have power and a supply of water to hand? What are the most appropriate materials and where do I source them?

This is all slightly stupid  - this is work we could have (should have) been getting on with while we were looking for the boat to buy and so there is an important lesson here for anyone aspiring to get afloat cheaply – don’t spend your time kicking your heals and dreaming – be practical and prepare, read, make notes and get your stuff together to takle the jobs.


QUESTION:                How exactly do you eat an elephant?

ANSWER:                   One bite at a time!

Now having found the boat, lack of preparation, may cost me time or money. I should have known of course – as a teacher (where I started my working career) it was drilled into me that preparation and planning were the keys to successful learning. Now, idiot that I am, I am having to re-learn that essential truth all over again. As a kind of academic, my first recourse is to books – and they all seem to say the same thing – preparation is the key.

So, before the first bite of the elephant I need to plan carefully and try to sequence the work – some things need to be done before other things, some things can’t be done until other things have been completed – but what are these things?

AND even before all that, I have to find somewhere to put the boat. I could put her in my garden. There are obvious advantages here. She would be close to water and power, there would be no charges and she’d be close by. Not everyone finds a boat on a trailer attractive however, and the neighbours might find a long stay unreasonable. A boatyard on the other hand would be an expense I could do without. Well in the end this is what I have opted for, partly out of concern for the neighbours but mainly because I feel I need boating people around me. I’m not confident enough to heroically go it alone. I’m hoping that the casual but expert advice available in the yard may help offset costs by speeding the work and helping me to get jobs right first time around. There may also be some tasks I really don’t want to take on, in which case the boat will be better located in the yard than at home. Finally, when ready, the boat can be launched directly from the yard – so no further road transport required – might even be able to sell the trailer.

I think I have found the boatyard, a couple of miles along the estuary from where I live – ‘Chantier Marine de Tannet, run by a very friendly Monsieur Seccourdan. It's close to the water, it has all the amenities including workshop, a small store of chandlery, and it has several building and renovation projects already under way. As a bonus, to my eyes at least, its a beautiful location. The sort of place you'd be happy to visit anyway, and I'm hoping there is a small but helpful community of like minded enthusiasts. 
Also, as a kind of bonus for me, M Seccourdan speaks no English whatsoever, so that should help my French enormously. Must make a note – first acquisition needs to be a yachtsman’s French / English Dictionary – Puis je peux commencer a manger cette elephant, morceau par morceau!

Ah - found one!
Yachtsman's Eight Language Dictionary


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Engaged to a Westerly

Well, controversially, I’ve got myself engaged to a heavy old girl, she’s sound and as solid as you could hope for, a bit long in the tooth and she needs some time in a beauty parlour. I hope she scrubs up well. Please don’t assume I’m talking about Susan here! Actually, my engagement is with an old Westerly boat – a Nomad. Her name (for the moment is ‘Sea Spray), a name I’ll probably change when the relationship is fully cemented.

I say my engagement is controversial because in my last post I asked for opinions on the deal. Well, I certainly got them but there was no real consensus. The arguments however, seemed to polarise and I’ll summarise them as best I can. Sorry, if I’ve misrepresented or misunderstood a particular point of view.

Firstly there are those who advised I walk away from the deal. The argument seemed to be that every boat, no matter how well maintained has a top value. A real low cost cruising person should know this value and then calculate the cost of bringing that particular boat back to that state. Once you have determined that cost, you can calculate the value of what you are looking at – this should be your top offer. If you can’t achieve that then you should walk away. There are lots of other boats out there. Do not get wedded to a vessel that will simply eat your money. Putting this argument to my situation, some would say that a Westerly Nomad in excellent condition may be worth 6,500 Euros. The cost of getting this one to that condition may be 4,000 Euros (more or less depending on what I can do myself and what I expertise I need to buy in). On that basis the offer I made was insanely generous.  

Others argue that this approach, whilst commercially sound, is a bit hard nosed, the kind of logic that a house developer might use – logical if your aim is to buy renovate and sell on without incurring irredeemable expense. They seem to make a number of points some of which are a bit on the romantic side, but here they are. Firstly, if everyone took that hard-nosed view, then no-one would ever purchase a new car. In the UK at least a new car loses at least a quarter of its value the day you take ownership of it. You will never recover your money on a new car. Boats are actually a better investment in that they depreciate more slowly.

Second argument (probably where I am coming from) I need a boat with certain qualities so she can do what I want of her. The list of qualities, meant that several writers wondered whether a short list could ever be achieved – few boats are built to those specs anymore, and those that are, are either horrendously expensive – Cornish Crabbers or lack comfortable accommodation Shrimpers for example. Now in assessing the cost of purchasing a suitable boat there are other expenses – I wouldn’t want to purchase a boat unseen – so to visit UK boatyards I would have to cross 120 miles of the English Channel, with a car and cover all the associated costs of food and hotels – in the hope that I would find what I was looking for within the space of a few economical days somewhere along the south coast. Car ferry alone would be in the region of 600 Euros per return trip. You wouldn’t have to make many of those to be seriously out of pocket. Then I’d need to arrange delivery, and that would require additional ferry charges if I could tow her – or a professional delivery service which would cost even more.

So, the price you pay for a boat is only one aspect of the cost of her purchase and delivery.

Stainless Steel charcoal heater - bonus!
This particular vessel could use a paint job on her hull. Internet research tells me that price and quality of finish are variable – but in my neck of the woods 30 Euros per foot seems to be the going rate. Some yachting chat sites suggest that DIY hull painting is fine as long as you are prepared to stay 10ft away from the hull afterwards. If you make a closer inspection, all the blemishes due to lack of skill and suitable working environment become obvious.

So, the deal I struck was to purchase a boat, have her professionally painted and delivered. The cost to me 6000 Euros, but instead of paying for the three items separately to three different individuals or companies, the payment will be made to one person who will undertake the work. I think I have made a reasonable deal to buy this boat – given my location and the costs associated with looking wider afield – and yes, the seller, by undertaking the painting and the delivery, has made close to his money by providing those services.

The alternative, I guess would have been to purchase another boat locally, but there is a real question as to whether she would have met my checklist of requirements.

There were other comments – which I try not to subscribe to – such as ‘well everyone knows, that boating is like standing under a cold shower tearing up bank notes’ and all boats are simply holes in the water that you pour money into. So what’s your problem whatever boat you buy will try to bankrupt you.

I’d like to think I’m somewhere in the middle of the road, I can’t imagine stopping the transformation of this little vessel into a comfortable long term (semi live-aboard) cruiser simply because the outlay won’t be recoverable but there again I can’t afford to throw money away.

So, the jury is out – different people have different philosophies and approaches and I’m not here trying to change anyone’s views – it’s been a good discussion though and lets see how things progress.

Actually, she doesn't look to bad from here
One view sent to me, which I saved to the last, was that there is no economic sense in owning a boat at all! Charter, what you want, where you want, when you want it - in truth you’ll only be paying for a boat when you use it and you have none of the responsibility of ownership. Well, no thanks, I can see the point of view, but no boat can compare with the one you own – she’s yours, she’s an extension of your personality, she talks to you and looks after you. Even guys who never leave the slipway will say that there is something primitive about boat-ownership, the relationship pre-dates scientific economic theory by a few thousand years. Ah, the idiot old romantic is surfacing again!


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Buying a Westerly

 The Nomad on the Mountain

Ok the deal is done – well almost. Mike, the English guy I am buying the boat from is a fascinating type, retired, living on the top of a mountain in Normandy and keen to become a sailor. So, he has this boat which is too big and heavy for him to trail easily and anyway, for the moment, until he becomes a little more confident in his navigation and seamanship, he wants to sell her and purchase something lighter and more suited to sailing a lake rather than the open sea. His ultimate goal is to sail around the UK.

We agreed that with luck and honest speaking we might be able to put together a ‘win-win’ agreement.

Now, like me, Mike has time to spare but money is tight. I know I can afford this boat because I have seen the prices they tend to bring. The boat is sound but cosmetically sad. I’ll need to paint the hull and that instils fear in me – never used a spray gun in my lifeand won't trust my competence on this job with a handbrush - painting non-slip on a deck is one thing - bringing a hull back to shining brilliance is something else. I’ll also need to arrange transport and given this boat’s location it won’t be cheap.

As I’m thinking of these fators John (the unlikely boat buider) Albugh’s advice is echoing in my ear ‘if an old boat needs restoration, you will need at least twice the money spent on her purchase to bring her back’.

I’m under no illusions here – there is a lot to do and a good deal of the gear that comes with her will need replacing – the compass for example is stuck on 280 degrees. Now that in itself might be an omen – 280 degrees is the course to steer to enter my home port - Plouer Sur Rance. I know the entrance well enough now not to need the compass – but it’s kind of good to know that when I bring her in, the compass for once in its life will be reading true.

I think I mentioned earlier that whilst I am looking for simple low cost cruising, I’m not prepared to rip anyone off to obtain my goal – essentially, if I ever feel that’s what I have done – then I’ve  blown the project.

So, here is the arrangement – Mike wanted 6,500Euros, for boat, trailer and all the gear. I worked on the assumption that everyone-over values their boat – they can’t help it, and much of the 'gear' isn't worth a great deal. My entire budget for this project is 10,000 Euros – so I need to bring the purchase price down significantly. I know Mike will balk at an offer of 4,000 Euros and yet I know I could purchase a craft similar to this in the UK at that kind of price – probably with a trailer but then there would be delivery charges and that could push the overall cost back to 6,000 Euros (or pretty close) – and then I would need to paint the hull. We discussed the dilemma and then Mike came up with something.

In a previous life Mike had made a living painting horse-boxes, trailers for carrying horses behind family cars from event to event. The trailers are generally of wood and aluminium construction and owners like to have them painted in the livery colours with their names on them. We walked around the back of his house to the barn and he showed me a few examples of his work – the quality of finish was outstanding. Ah, so now I know why he’s living on a mountain – he keeps horses on it.

He needs 6,000 Euros, effectively reducing his price by 500  Euros, but he has plenty of time. His offer is to meet the cost of paints fillers, degreasers etc, prepare and paint the hull and deliver the boat to my boatyard within the price. I pay him the money when the work is done to my satisfaction and the boat is snugly berthed at the boat yard near my home. Once she arrives I’ll probably sell the trailer to recover a little of my expense.

I think we both got a good deal, he gets the money he needs but has to devote time and skill to the project, I get the boat I want delivered with a shiny, newly painted hull.

What do you think?


Saturday, 6 October 2012

La Rance

Let Me Show You Around

A regular reader of these posts (and an excellent blogger in his own right) recently commented on one of my posts to ask whether I knew how lucky I was. The stimulus for the question was a particular post describing a trip as crew aboard my good friend Allain’s lugger along the estuary of the River Rance which effectively makes a salt water route a good twenty miles inland from the beautiful French Port of St Malo towards the walled medieval town of Dinan. Beyond that there is a canal which can take you across Brittany to the Atlantic.I have given sketch descriptions of the estuary in previous postings. but this time, I thought I’d show you a couple of very special places on the estuary and a snapshot or two of where I live in my adopted home in the hamlet of La Ville Main close by the village of Plouer Sur Rance, which has its own harbour on the estuary. 

So, here are Les Roches Sculpture (The Sculptured Rocks). A granite cliff face on which a certain nineteenth century French clergyman decides to tell the story of the rise and fall of a ‘clan’ of Bretons who lived here and gave this place its name Rotteneuf or Rotheneuf).

The Rotteneuf clan were pirates and corsairs who made and broke allegiances to suit themselves. Outside of the law, but too powerful to challenge, they fought with other Bretons and would take as prizes any vessel which came within their reach.

 Eventually during the French revolution they found themselves caught between Channel Islanders seeking revenge and revolutionary forces determined to impose their rule over the entire nation. A ferocious sea battle ensued at the base of these cliffs and the fate of the clan is graphically carved into the cliff face. It’s a strange and eerie spot especially in poor weather when wind, surf and a leaden sky form the backdrop.

On an equally sombre yet somehow romantic note, here is La Passager, one of many creaks and inlets on the estuary – best explored by canoe, unless you have a shoal draft boat, a good sounder and nerves of steel. Its claim to fame is that it is a ships graveyard. There are small vessels of all descriptions in various stages of dereliction beached here. Strange isn’t it? As someone commented to me the other day, if these were cars, the authorities would be imposing fines and orders on the owners – but they are boats and there is something beautiful about a boat or a wreck – it seems to have a romantic story to tell. Susan and I love to come here, picnic and wander round.

Finally, here is La Ville Main, I live here with Susan and dog Jack, we purchased this place about six years ago, and when we aren’t sailing, boating, making music or hanging out with other anarchic souls, we are trying to make ourselves comfortable in an ancient house, barn and garden. To some extent the project is about renovating an old property, more importantly however, it’s about a sustainable life free of the everyday shackles that weigh you down and depress the spirit, and having a good time of course!

So in the belief that a picture is worth a thousand words, for better or worse, these pictures are an attempt to describe our location in the hope they will add context to later posts. 

John, you asked whether I knew how lucky I am? --- You bet I do, every single moment!


Monday, 1 October 2012

Westerly Nomad (2)

Rig and Rudder

Well there seems to be quite a bit of support for the idea of purchasing a Westerly Nomad and this one seems to tick a significant number of boxes (although a few boxes remain unticked and there are still a few unanswered questions) Maybe someone can offer suggestions.

Firstly, the boat is ‘sound’ to the best of my knowledge. I undertook a boat surveying course last year organised by the International Institute of Marine Surveyors and seriously considered taking it up as a part-time retirement activity. Unfortunately, the cost of professional indemnity insurance for a rookie surveyor is such that I would have had to work full time to cover the fees, and that would have put me back to the 9-5 routine I was trying to avoid – so it didn’t happen. I do feel qualified to survey a small boat however, so I’m satisfied she is sound and, if I get it wrong, well, I can blame the surveyor but I can’t sue him.

She certainly fits the bill for shallow draft and as a triple keeled vessel, she’ll take the ground without falling over – so she’s good for estuary and canal. Previous Nomad owners have crossed the Atlantic and everyone tells me she is a good sea boat although she is slow. Cabin accommodation is likened to that of a 26 or 27footer, so she’ll be comfortable for two.

The Nomad is essentially a modified Westerly 22 and the Westerly 22 was Günter rigged – so maybe (and this needs further research) just maybe I could rig this Nomad as a Günter. The question is whether in developing the Nomad  from the 22, the designer moved the chain plates for the shrouds - I don’t know. Why does this matter?  Well, there can be no backstays with a Gunter rig so the responsibility for stopping the mast falling forward rests with the shrouds, attaching them as far aft as possible. The Nomad was always produced as a Bermudan sloop with backstays – so did Rayner move the shroud fitments forward when he added the chain plates on the transom? Interestingly enough, the Nomad has twin forestays, one of which sits inboard and attaches to the mast at two thirds the height of the mast – pretty much where the forestay on a Günter rigged vessel would have been. This seems a little like over-egging the pudding (as we say in Yorkshire) So, did Rayner simply add a mast headed forestay and backstays to the existing Gunter rig arrangement to accommodate Bermudan, or did he alter the location of the lateral stays as well? If the answer is the former, then I could perhaps consider conversion to Gunter. Either way this isn’t top of my list of priorities – it would be nice to do – if and when all the other issues have been dealt with.

At the moment I am more concerned with another modification which has been made to this particular Nomad. The rudder has been changed and moved to the transom and the space saved in the cockpit has been used to create an outboard well. Now this is both exciting and worrying. The new rudder looks strong enough and her fittings seem robust. The outboard well seems to be well-made and strong. If this modification works it frees up inboard engine space and makes for a cheaper and easier to maintain power source. The rudder however, is in a new location and is more exposed. Allain, a professional boat builder and sailor suggests that the new location for the rudder should improve performance over the original design and that if I am worried I can protect it and strengthen it by fitting an iron bar between from the bottom of the rudder and the bottom of the keel. A job, I might consider after a season’s use when I have got the measure of how she performs. 

With these modifications there is no question of bringing the boat back to her 'factory setting' so I certainly won't be 'restoring' a Westerly Nomad, instead I will be 'renewing and updating' a modified version. This isn't a problem for me, in that I always wanted to end up with something more comfortable that the rather austere vessels typical of 1960's GRP. 

So, you can guess my interest in this Nomad is more than casual. I know this boat will be in my price range (because they all are) but a price has to be negotiated and my concern is to achieve a fair settlement neither feeling ripped-off nor feeling that I have ripped anyone else off. I’m into Simple Sailing and Low Cost Cruising but I don’t want to achieve this at anyone else’s expense (unless they are a banker of course – they seem to be able to look after themselves well enough!). Now, these boats are old and so relatively cheap in the UK but rare in France so lets see what happens.


Monday, 24 September 2012

Westerly Nomad, Westerly Centaur

Westerly Nomad, Westerly Centaur

New Recipe Page for September - see 'A view from the galley'

So, this weekend we took an expedition to the remote and obscure regions of Normandy to see a guy called Michael, an Englishman who has settled here and who has a Westerly Nomad for sale.

I have been attracted to the Westerly range of Sailing boats for some time but was disappointed recently when I inspected a Westerly Centaur, the most famous of the Westerly range. Let me not be misunderstood here, she was a lovely boat and I can easily appreciate why they sold in such huge numbers in the 1970s and 1980’s – a solid more seaworthy boat you could not hope to encounter – but for me, she was just too large. There is a balance I guess between comfort which frequently comes with size, and easy handling and maintenance which comes with a lack of size. At 26ft the Centaur was just on the wrong side of the equation. With a Centaur, I felt I would need use of a crane every time I wanted to lower the mast (and I do want to lower the mast easily to make use of the canal). I loved the centaur but she was not for me.

Then I heard about the Westerly 22ft, the first boat that the designer Commander Raynor put in production. A strange quirky looking vessel that wouldn’t appeal to many people today, but Susan fell in love with her unusual shape and the heaviness of her build. I liked the Gunter rig and the fact that she had Atlantic crossing under her belt.

But then I heard about the Nomad – varying reports – Michael, another Michael, who often comments on these scribblings told me he’d had one and wouldn’t purchase another – Michael however, likes speed. Another web site is actually dedicated to them and there is a Yahoo group specifically for Nomad owners. They delight in the vessel and wax lyrical about her accommodation, her heavy build and safety record. Elsewhere on the net, someone commented that she was ‘built like a tank – but sails ----- like a tank!’

So, what to make of a Nomad? Well, they have an international following and there are several examples in the USA as well as UK, but in France, she is a rare boat indeed.

But by pure chance I heard of the Englishman trying to sell one in Normandy, a two hour drive from my home in Plouer Sur Rance Brittany. If nothing else, a trip to see her would make for a pleasant day out. So, armed with a good map and a couple of sailing friends (whose role it was to take a dispassionate view and point out the downsides), we set off from Plouer for a somewhat obscure farm in Normandy.

At Avranche just across the border we stopped for lunch at the Restaurant de la Post and the four of us enjoyed a three course lunch with wine and coffee for about 60 euros total (£50ish ?). Normandy is famous for chicken in cream, and apple deserts with wafter thin pastry. Guess what – we had chicken in cream, and apple deserts with wafter thin pastry, a pleasant change from the Sausage pancakes of Brittany.

After lunch we climbed through heavily wooded deep cut valleys until we reached Michael’s place 1,200 above sea level and at least 80 miles from the sea. Strange location for a boat and her skipper. Michael, explained that he’d bought this place after falling in love with it on a holiday. Only when he took the plunge and moved in had he realised the altitude.

So, here was the boat – pretty much as I had expected, sitting on a large road trailer and looking pretty sad. Having crawled all over her however, it became clear that she was sound albeit cosmetically sad. Two things impressed me:

  1. the cabin accommodation is enormous, there are no side decks and the cabin is stretched almost all the way to the bow.

  1. She has a charcoal burning stove inside her – immediate fantasy pictures of late autumn living aboard and cruising the canal in real comfort.

As for Susan, well she was cold – dressed for a lunch in a restaurant rather than clambering about an old wet boat in such an exposed location – but guess what – she loved her. It’s that quirky whaleback shape and turned up nose that did it. So, this Nomad is a serious contender. 


So what did you think of her Jack?      'Rough'!

 Any thoughts anyone .....before I jump?