Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A More Wholesome Approach to Owning a Boat

Recent comments from pirates, comrades and partners in crime have been really helpful. John Almberg (the Unlikely boat builder) suggested a return to an older (and in my view) more wholesome approach to getting a boat. Finding a local boat builder who knows the local waters and who can build a suitable vessel from scratch. He mentioned the designs of  Howard Chapple and his idea is very tempting. There is a something very special about the American boats John mentions. They were powerful fast and very elegant, sadly few of them came to the UK, probably because, with a few exceptions, Europe simply didn’t have that kind of money and/or the appreciation of the ‘new’. For many Europeans ‘old’ is beautiful, new is simply brash.


I know that if I had the resources to purchase and maintain one of those ocean greyhounds I would neither hesitate nor look back.

Still, the notion of commissioning a ‘one off’ vessel is appealing and I do happen to know a man. I’ll talk to him within the next week or so.

Meanwhile Michael Arnott has just completed a crossing from Bristol to Lundy Island and back. 40 miles of open water and some of the fiercest tides in Europe, he’s written an account of it in comments under my piece about the 'ideal' boat', once again drawing me towards the Westerly range of boats and re-kindling interest (yet again) in the Centaur. Maybe I should take a second look? 

So, we have a long holiday weekend ahead with an extra day tagged on for us Brits because the Queen has been on the throne for a significant length of time, so she’s given everyone a day off. Still got no boat but we do have a kayak so it’ll be a trip to the end of the estuary and maybe up river to the truly beautiful French medieval town of Dinan for a glass of muscadet and a bowl of Moules Frites.

Visited Michael Zessller's blog the other day(A Bone in its Teeth) and was really taken by some of his Youtube movie clips – taken from a canoe that looks remarkably similar to mine – except he had a sail and outriggers. Probably cost a fortune BUT maybe, just maybe,  I could knock something together.

Mmm dreaming again


Saturday, 26 May 2012

Westerly Warwick

One of the boats that I thought I might be able to afford the other day, was a Westerly Warwick. Her price and name are both attractive. In fact, anything from the old Westerly Yacht Company is worth looking at.They had a fantastic reputation in their day. I scrambled aboard a Westerly Centaur a few weeks ago and was impressed by many aspects of the design but sadly she was a trifle too big for my needs and I didn't feel that the mast could be lowered and raised easily enough without use of a crane. So, back to the search and consideration of a smaller boat from the same stable. One good thing about Westerly boats is that they have an almost fanatical group of owners and a very active owner association which publishes anything they can find about their beloved boats and the old Westerly company. With regard to the Warwick, here's what I found:

After the success of the Westerly Centaur, the Westerly Company decided to extend the range of products with similar boats in a variety of sizes, hence the arrival of the Warwick 21 and Pageant 23 in 1970.

Both the Warwick and Pageant looked just like the Centaur, and it is said that it is difficult to tell them apart at 100 yards. Purchasers of the Centaur had reported that they particularly liked the roomy interior, safe cockpit and decks and big diesel engine, and so the priority for Warwick and Pageant design was to maintain these attractions. Not so easy, to achieve that with a 21½ footer. So in designing the Warwick the starboard forecabin berth was shortened to make room for a heads compartment, and the starboard saloon berth became a hybrid of quarter berth and saloon table double. In effect, you can use it as one or the other, but not both. This gave space for a full-length quarter berth, a cooker and a hanging locker to port, which still left 6 feet for the cockpit.

Headroom was 5ft 10ins. The Westerly Association states that the sailing performance is astonishing for such a boxy shape.This is achieved by constructing her with a really long waterline and a tall rig, which goes well with her 45% ballast ratio and broad beam, to make her stiff and faster than seems possible. So, while she is not a racer, her performance is far better than her looks indicate.

To keep the price competitive she was originally offered with an outboard as standard, but with the option of an inboard at extra cost. The engines offered were the Vire 6hp petrol and the Petter Mini 6. The Vire is wonderfully small and light, which means, it can be lifted out and taken home for winter. The Petter, I understand can be temperamental as an alloy head on an iron block can spell trouble if not properly serviced. Apart from that it seems that the Warwick offers all the advantages of a Centaur and I guess all the vices too. Dodgy bilge keels perhaps, if she's spent her life on half tide moorings or stored out of the water in winter? 

The Warwick was in production for seven years, during which time 207 were built, so there are plenty around. An example would be well worth considering if she came up for sale locally.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Hunting for the Ideal Boat

So, today I started a serious search for my boat. The best selling boating Journal in the UK 'Practical Boat Owner' seemed to be a good starting point, 70 private ads for boats, sailing boats in the main. So, how many could I afford? Well, if I take the advice of people who have commented on my scribblings to date, 'half of your money for the purchase, half for renovation and commissioning', then of the 70 for sale, I could have bought thirteen. What were they?

Well there were:

three Achilles 24's,
a Swift 18,
a Drascombe lugger,
a Heard Picarooner,
a Vivacity 24,
a Westerly Warwick,
a Robert Ives 21-4,
a Sterling Matador,
a Westerly 22,
a Newbridge Navigator,
and a Hurley 22.

Of those, some aree unknown to me.

A Heard Picarooner? Well, according to the ad she's a GRP gaff cutter, built in 1995 - Mmm interesting! Ah, a sixteen foot day sailer! Too small no cabin - no thank you.

A Sterling Matador? 23ft  GRP yacht with inboard diesel and bilge keels - OK a possibility but more research would be required - why haven't I heard of them?

A Robert Ives? 21ft GRP bilge keel sloop - maybe a bit on the small side, no mention of an engine.

The Swift 18 - too small with an outboard slung on the transom - not for me.

So that leaves me with the Hurley 22, I seem to remember that these boats were strong and well respected as sea boats. Some (if not all) were deep keeled however so, I'd need information about the draft.

The Newbridge Navigator, was originally advertised as a having full standing head room in the cabin. Unfortunately at 19ft she's a little small, and on such a waterline length, I wonder what compromises the designer had to make to get that headroom.

Now the Vivacity, I know has a good reputation. At 24ft she's an ideal length and this one had bilge keels and a new engine. Could be a serious contender.

As for the Achilles, two of the three were described as fin keels - as for the third, the ad didn't say.The Drascombe Lugger ad said very little except to contact a broker.

Which leaves me with the two Westerly's. This company had a reputation for producing strong sea boats but I know nothing of either of these models.

What is clear, is that there are an awful lot of boats out of my reach - pretty much all of those I have written about so far. Unless, of course, I can find a semi-derelict specimen, in need of serious TLC. Now the question is, am I likely to find a Practical Boat Owner reader selling such a vessel? Nope - I guess not. So a new strategy is required. Boating journals are fine for general reading, but I'm hardly likely to find my boat within their pages -- and I can't waste money chasing all over the UK. I need to look more locally.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Boat Fishing

Friday was moving house day, downsizing to a smaller house on the Island because the home in France is where we spend most of our time. Friday was also a date when I had a longstanding arrangement to join a group of friends for a fishing expedition. So, while Susan grappled with crates and boxes of books, I took myself off to the harbour to join up with Tony Hart, skipper of one of the best fishing charter boats in Jersey.

Yes, you're right I owe ..... bigtime!

So, Tony's boat is a fast 33' Aquastar,a powerful sea boat with huge twin diesels which whisked us ten or twelve miles offshore in what seemed like a remarkably short time for a sailing boat man like me. Fishing was for Mackerel initially as bait fish for more interesting species later in the day. Sea bass and Bream were the main catch, along with dogfish and blond ray (which we released). Catch of the day, I guess was a huge mean looking Conger which took twenty minutes to haul aboard. It was at least six feet in length. We kept it on board long enough to photograph and then released it, much to everyone's relief. It had me wondering for a while whether we had caught it or if it had caught us.

On our return, the plan had been to stroll into town and visit a few pubs. Truth is however, that we were tired, pretty dirty and we stank of fish. Best not to inflict ourselves on the good people of St Helier on a Friday night. So I was home at a reasonably time with a basket of good sized Bass and Bream. Both are pretty tasty fish so, in some way, I contributed to family well being even though I wasn't around to assist with the house move. Well, that's my view of it anyway.

Meanwhile, you notice I have made a few changes to this site, largely because I want it to become less of a blog and more of a resource for anyone seeking the freedom of  the sea for small expenditure. So, as well as this diary, there will be pages added, of  resources, hints, tips wrinkles and advice and I'll try to develop some kind of logic to what goes where so that it is easy to navigate. In particular, once the boat has been found, I'll list and comment on materials, tools, and gear used, to advise on their suitability and my experience of using them.

I'd also like to post up, (AND ACKNOWLEDGE) your own tips, tricks, and ideas - so come on, if you have discovered something interesting or useful, pass it on to the rest of us via this corner of the net! No reward I'm afraid - but the satisfaction of knowing that you've made a contribution to at the simple sailors out there.

Finally, John Almberg ( the unlikely boatbuilder) commented recently that he thought my list of shallow draft, bilge keel, gunter rigged GRP boat may actually contain no examples. Well, John, much to my surprise, (and yours I guess), I have found one boat at least that fits the bill. More about that later!


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Gelcoat Cracks In GRP Boats

It seems as if the more I look into this, the more convinced I am that I’ll end up with a GRP boat – even though I am also convinced that the prettiest and most diverse range of boats available are probably wood. I also feel that a compromise on my notion of the ideal cruising boat will be required. As John Almberg (The Unlikely boatbuilder blog) commented here recently – a list of shallow draft, bilged keeled GRP boats with gunter rigs may actually have no entries on it! Still, ever optimistic I’ve been reading more about GRP and the issues I am likely to encounter with an old second (or third) hand one. 

Compared with metal, GRP is a relatively brittle material. Whereas steel, might bend or dent under an impact, GRP is most likely to crack.

In themselves cracks in a GRP gelcoat are relatively easy to repair. If it is a simple matter of damage caused by a collision with the pontoon, grinding out and refilling is probably all that is required. But cracks can appear for several reasons and unless you know what caused them, you may be only dealing with the symptoms – not the cause.

Cracks often occur due to stress in the material, and boats can be exposed to many stresses. 'Panting', is a term used to describe the movement in a hull when it moves in and out like bellows. The cause is usually changes in the water pressure on the hull as a boat is moving through water in sever weather. At times, she’ll be low in the water as a wave rolls past, and then moments later a large portion of her hull may be out of the water as she breaks through the top of a wave. Pounding, can create huge local stresses on the bottom of a hull as it leaps out of the water and slaps down hard. Boats also suffer from twisting forces as they take waves on the quarter, and sailing boats can be subject to great stress where the mast meets the hull or on decks where shrouds take enormous strain.

It would not be cost effective or practical to construct a GRP craft with a hull thick enough over its entire length and breadth to resist every force applied to it. Generally therefore, a designer will draw plans for a boat with a hull skin strong enough to cope with the external pressure of water expected and then add strengtheners to cope with all the additional pressures that will occur in a seaway. Strengtheners are both longitudinal and transverse and designers have applied a great deal of ingenuity in building them in to the structure, in some cases as cabin furniture and bulkheads. The purpose is to break up the hull skin into panels so that the load on any particular part of the hull is ‘transferred’ into the stiffeners and then diffused and shared by the rest of the hull structure. If the panel is too small it will make the hull stiff and brittle in that area. If it is too large the panel may be too flexible, in which case, cracking may occur.

The essential message is that, you can fill cracks, but unless you know what caused them, and unless you address the root cause of the problem, you may have to fill them again fairly soon.


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sailing The Old Fashioned Way

Reasons to be cheerful, a thought on how to ensure low cost cruising. Can you sail without radar, GPS, electronic plotters, electronic compasses, wind-speed indicators, fish finders, computers and weather stations? Yes you can! Twenty or thirty years ago most of this technology hadn't been invented but we still put out to sea in small boats. Did we enjoy our sailing? You bet! Did we get to our destinations safely? Certainly, in fact you could argue that safety has been compromised since we became ever more reliant upon new technology. So,those old guys who taught me to sail  knew a thing or two.  One thing is for sure, we’d all be a lot better off if every pound, euro or dollar spent on electronic gizmos stayed in our pockets. 

A guy I know recently jumped on board his powerboat in St Helier harbour, opened a can of coke, turned on his electronic plotter and selected the route for St Peter Port Guernsey, another Island 25 miles distant. Ten minutes later he was outside the harbour, in clear water and the automatic pilot was engaged. He didn’t touch the wheel again until he was ten minutes from his destination. An effortless cruise he called it, but if that is his idea of sailing, why didn’t he just take the regular ferry? He has never plotted the course on paper and wouldn’t know what to do if the electronics went down. Boat owner he may be – sailor certainly not! The basic elements of seamanship are missing, along with the romance and the satisfaction of voyaging under your own steam, reading the tides, the weather, the wind and the waves. Not only does he lose all that but he also pays big money for a rack of electronic equipment and a boat he barely understands.

Perhaps at this point I should explain that I am not a Luddite and I am not looking back on the past with spectacles of a certain rosy hue. Some technological aids are a godsend. I won’t put to sea outside the bay without a VHF radio. In fact on my previous boat I carried two, the second one being a small handheld for use ‘just in case’, likewise, an echo sounder. As for the rest, well I have GPS but I use it as a back-up to traditional navigation – and quite frankly I don’t feel the need to upgrade. So on this simple sailing low cost cruising project I’ll consider how the old timers did it and think twice before buying that ‘all singing all dancing’ piece of electronic kit.

Paper charts used to be the key to all navigation. They were valued, cared for and always updated. Compasses were checked for accuracy and all seamen knew about deviation and variation. They understood the difference between true north and magnetic north and they knew how to apply the arithmetic. The only other bits of kit needed were a couple of pencils, a plotter and an eraser.

Pilotage and coastal navigation was done by eye using ‘marks’ to constantly update the position. On the east coast of Jersey, for example, you can sail a straight course along the coast between some horrendous rocks and sandbars to or from Gorey harbour for about two and a half miles in perfect safety, providing you keep a particular house on top of the hill directly over the pier head as you sail towards or away from it. Breast marks (two conspicuous objects in line off to port or starboard) can often be used to indicate places on a route where a change of course should be made.

Buoys can be used as sea marks and ‘buoy hopping’ is a legitimate way of making the voyage. Tide tables can often be obtained from local chandlers free of charge and the old ‘rule of twelfths’ to calculate the depth of water and strength of tide for any given time between high and low is still a valid procedure.

The old guys knew how to calculate speed and for them it was a fairly simple affair. If you knew your boat well you’d make a fairly reasonable estimate but if you were unsure then it was simply a matter of putting a crew member in the bows of the boat to throw a piece of wood well ahead. He would then call out as the stem of the boat passed it. Another crew member called out as it passed the stern. Armed with this information, the boat speed can be obtained by thinking of the length of the boat in meters, doubling it, and then dividing this number by the number of seconds it took the boat to pass the piece of wood. There you had the boat’s speed through the water! In truth though, with a boat which has a maximum hull speed of 5 knots, how wrong can you get? Will an error of one knot of speed through the water make a huge difference to your calculations?

Leeway? An estimation of the number of degrees the wake is curving away from the boat indicates how much compensation you need to give the helm.

Ah, but what about fog, how do you handle that without radar? Well, you try to avoid it but if you are caught out it is often possible to ‘feel your way’ to a place of relative safety by using the echo sounder to run along an underwater contour line marked on the chart.

Navigation in the old way was not an exact science but the more you sailed the better refined your skills became. We always used to ‘aim’ a little up-tide or up-wind of our intended destination so that if adjustments had to be made as we closed the coast, it was a relatively easy matter to fall down onto the target.

Despite its apparent lack of precision though, there are some who would say it was safer. In the pre-electronic days, you had to watch the elements and know your boat. Chart work had to be done carefully and the log had to be maintained. You made your own plans and ploughed your own furrow. Two incidents in recent years make me question the wisdom of an over reliance on electronics. The first one involved a skipper who hit a large buoy he had used as a waypoint. The electronics were a bit too accurate and he was concentrating on the electronic screen rather than keeping a good lookout. The second was a comment made by a skipper only a few weeks ago on his return from Cherbourg.  ‘Everyone wants to get from A to B by the shortest most logical route. They all use the same waypoints and plot the same course there and back. Every vessel is running along the same line at different speeds often in opposite directions. There’s a lot of water out there but for most of the time we’re all trying to use the same bit!’

If you're interested in Marlinspike sailing as its is sometimes known. Here is a good book on the subject
The Marlinspike Sailor  (USA Readers)
The Marlinspike Sailor (UK Readers)


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief

Discovered an old book of knots today in a thrift store. I didn’t expect to find anything new and actually I‘m of the opinion that there are probably only eight crucial knots that a sailor needs to know. The trick is to use them correctly.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to learn something interesting from the book which made the 50 pence I gave for it worthwhile.

So, here is the interesting snippet.

We all know the reef knot. It is the most well know sailor’s knot but frequently tied wrongly. Here’s how it should look. You’ll see it’s perfectly symmetrical. Both ends of the rope leave the knot at the top of the loop. You’ll know if you’ve got it right because it lays flat. There aren’t many uses for a reef knot other than the obvious one of tying in a reef on a sailing boat. It works best if it remains under tension. If it’s allowed to go slack or if it’s shaken too much it can unravel. These illustrations use different shades and types of rope for clarity but if you decide to use a reef knot for any reason, it’s only good for tying ropes of the same size and weave. Never use it for joining two mooring ropes or tow ropes together, its just not reliable enough.

Now here is the granny knot, usually tied as a reef knot by mistake. It’s a notorious knot which is good for nothing on a boat. It’s completely asymmetrical, it won’t lay flat like a correctly tied reef and it has the capacity both to jam and to shake itself loose – Avoid it like the plague.

So, what you may ask – where is the interesting bit promised above? 


Well. Take a look at this picture. It’s called a ‘thief’ knot. Sailors used to tie this around their personal lockers. At first glance, it looks like a reef – but note how the ends of the ropes exit – one at the top, one at the bottom. The theory was that any thief untying the knot to get into a locker would retie it as a reef or worse a granny, either way you’d know someone had been into your stuff! As the saying goes ‘It takes a thief to catch a thief’


Monday, 14 May 2012

Long Keel, Short Keel Bilge Keel – Which One Is Best?

Keels can be heaven or hell – to the owner of a high speed power boat a keel is the last thing you would want. Keels make your boat heavy, they increase the wetted area of the hull, they cause friction and slow you down. On the other hand boats without a keel pay a different price, they have no grip on the water so when engine power is reduced they are difficult to control slipping and sliding in any direction at the merest hint of a breeze. From a more traditional boat owner’s point of view keels are necessary because they bite the water, reduce leeway and help keep the boat upright. A sailing boat without some form of keel would only be good for down wind sailing. Given their importance it is hardly surprising that they get a significant amount of attention from designers.

A traditional long keel can be ideal if you rate an easy motion and directional stability above speed. Long keeled boats look after their crew, they are ‘sea kindly’. A long keeled sailing boat will often follow a set course for hours without needing attention at the helm. She may be the ideal choice for long distance, blue water, short handed sailing but she’ll be slow.

Modern racing yachts tend to have a short fixed keel or a retractable dagger board, deep in the water when fighting to get upwind and raised to reduce friction when running downwind.  These are fast highly manoeuvrable craft. They win races but they buck and heel to every gust of wind or slap of the wave. Boats such as these are exciting but they keep their helmsmen busy.

Bilge keeled boats have two keels, side by side. They were developed not so much to improve performance but rather to reduce the cost of boat ownership. A bilge keeler is able to sit upright on the mud so it makes cheaper, half-tide moorings a more attractive prospect. Many early bilge keelers were poorly designed so they were neither fast nor sea kindly. They have improved over the years – but they are still considered to be a compromise solution.  So, which type of keel is best? for. It all depends on what you want your boat to do, how far you want to go and how much you’re prepared to pay.

From my point of view, bilge keels will give shallow draft, so they would be good for getting through the canal. They’ll also give me a chance of staying upright if I accidentally ground on a mud bank in the estuary. A long keel is attractive for directional stability and a steady predictable movement in a seaway. I’d rather do without a retractable keel if it means giving up cabin space to its housing and anyway, it might be a bit too sporty – I want a boat that will look after herself while I pop below to put the kettle on, fin keelers have the reputation of doing their own thing the minute you take your hand off the tiller.  A recent comment from Michael (yesterday) however, set me thinking about triple keels, or at least two bilge plates and a skeg, and he mentioned one boat ( too staid for him) but possibly quite promising for me!


David Greenwood

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Westerly Centaur

Today we had a light force two from the south west out of a beautiful blue sky. The sea (high tide at lunchtime) was emerald in colour and the entire sailing community of Jersey were out on the water. Time for another trip in the Kayak or a visit to a boat I had heard was for sale.

The visit to the boat won the day and so I spent the afternoon crawling over a Westerly Centaur. These vessels were produced in huge numbers in the UK and many were exported to the USA. They have a reputation as strong seaboats and although built in GRP, they are considered to be ‘Classic Craft’.

The Westerly Company was established in the 1960’s by an ex-naval officer D.A.Rayner. He originally designed and built a vessel for his own use and later began producing derivatives of the original design. The most famous of the boats to come from the Westerly yard was the Centaur. Interestingly enough the Centaur was not one of his, she was actually designed by Jacks Giles of the Laurent Giles design partnership.

At the time, she was described as a ‘proper gentleman’s yacht’, but one of the attractions for me is the fact that she packs a powerful 25hp diesel within her hull. She might not look it but she is pretty much a motorsailer, capable of much more than I will ever have the nerve to use her for. At 26ft overall length, she has lots of accommodation, and as a bilge-keeler she can sit upright and comfortable on the mud.

So, what did I think of her? Well, I was impressed by her size. In fact, I decided she was just a touch too big! I came away with a number of real concerns.

The mast height was such that raising and lowering would probably be a major undertaking for one person. I’m sure there are people out there who, by the judicious use of ropes, pulleys and wires, may have developed a slick way of carrying out the operation but, without a crane and with the boat on the water, I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable doing it.
She was also at the top end of my price range so there wouldn’t be much left for commissioning.

And finally -Although these vessels have and outstanding reputation, (reflected in the prices they command) they do have one serious design flaw which only became apparent long after they were built. They were one of the first commercially produced bilge-keel boats. In fact Laurent Giles &Co was commissioned to design this vessel largely because of the experience they had in tank testing various keel configurations at Southampton University. Unfortunately, the Centaur design is such that when the vessel takes the ground, the full weight of the hull is taken by the two keels. The angle that the keels make with the hull is such that many keels have cracked or broken along the join. A Centaur with a history of deep water mooring will be OK, but a vessel kept on a drying mooring or laid-up on the hard each winter could give you expensive problems. It is certainly not a job I would feel confident to tackle.

So, although interested, I walked away pleased that I had heeded John Almberg’s advice posted on this blog the other day. (John Almberg is the author of ‘The Unlikely Boatbuilder blogspot’)

I reproduce it here because the importance of it may help influence others on the same journey.

Buy a boat small enough so that you can afford (time + money) to not only maintain her, but improve her over time. Size and condition matter…a small boat with a sound hull and deck is the best starter boat.

Don’t bite of more than you can chew with pleasure.

It is a buyers market…never think that there is any urgency about a particular boat. However nice she is, you can find another one next week you’ll love just as much.

Wait for a boat that’s ½ the money you can afford, so you have the other ½ left to fix her up and fit her out.

Westerly Centaur
L.0.A.: 26ft.
L.W.L.: 21ft. 4ins.
Beam: 8ft. 5ins.
Draft: 3ft.
Working sail area: 341sq ft.
Designers: Laurent Giles & Partners Ltd.
Builders: Westerly Marine Constructions Ltd.


Saturday, 12 May 2012

Electric Boat Polisher

'Got a Polisher for the Boat? Try it out on the car'
Today should not have been so good. I bought an electric sander/polisher earlier in the week in the belief that whatever boat I end up with, she'll need polishing at least. Susan, suggested I get some practise on the machine and had me polish the car. It wasn't so bad so long as I was able to imagine it was a boat. So, not the best of days for a frustrated sailor - but then, I discovered words of encouragement from Michael, whose comments on my posts are always positive, thoughtful and upbeat. 

It was Michael who suggested I should visit a website called the 'Unlikely Boatbuilder' managed by John Almberg. If you haven't been there, I would highly recommend it. I spent a good deal of time there today and it is one of the most useful, informative and encouraging sites I have seen. You can imagine, my delight therefore when I discovered that John had taken the trouble to visit Simple Sailing Low Cost Cruising and make a few important comments on my posts. A real honour.

Another guy who has shown interest in my amateur efforts is  Mitch Zeissler who has a site called 'A Bone in its Teeth'. Well worth the visit for anyone with even the faintest interest in boating. Both these guys are experienced sailors and writers, I've a good deal to learn from them and I intend to take full advantage of their experience.

The other good news (for me) is that I have had my 1000th visitor to this site today. My first post was about six weeks ago. I don't know if that is good or bad in blog terms but it certainly encourages me to carry on.

Anyway, having seen what websites run by experienced bloggers look like there will be some changes here in the near future. One thing that won't change however, is my eternal gratitude for all the encouragement and sound advice I'm receiving from across the globe, It's good to know that goals can be achieved and that my project isn't an individual act of insanity.

Anyway the Polisher is a good one and not too heavy to use above your head (an important feature for polishing boat hulls) You can get one here:
DEWALT DWP849X 7-Inch/9-Inch Variable Speed Polisher with Soft Start (USA Readers)
DEWALT DWP849X Variable Speed Polisher 240V (UK Readers)


Friday, 11 May 2012

Buying a Boat

Two things I learned crawling over the beautiful Cape Cutter the other day. First, I am naturally drawn to traditional looking craft. Second, I’m a potential sucker for them. There is a real danger that I could end up buying a completely unsuitable boat because I have become so smitten with her looks that I forget to consider her qualities (or lack of them). There are two particular dangers here. One is that I purchase a beautiful craft which is unsuitable to my needs; the other issue is that in considering her beauty I may fail to appreciate how much work will be required to bring her back to an effective sailing standard. I could easily fall victim to either failing – or worse I could end up with an unsuitable boat, too far gone to repair.

So, here is a strategy. I have to accept that, when buying a boat, logic can sometimes fly out of the window. Sometimes a boat simply speaks to you; something about her tells you that she is the one for you. At that point the trap is set.

From that point onwards, in my eyes, the boat has no faults. Peeling paint and spongy wood is no longer a sign of rot, rather it is part of her ageless charm. The musty smell inside the cabin is nothing more than a sign that she has been unloved for a while, that she is crying out for attention and the patched hull merely shows that she has a ‘history’ – here is a boat that has been places. Rose coloured spectacles or are they binoculars?

At this point I will need a critical friend, someone who will see the boat in more realistic terms, someone who will ask a few serious questions and challenge my ideas. The person I take with me doesn’t have to be an expert – soft wood is soft wood, rust is rust, all he or she needs to do is look carefully and pose the question – ‘that is rust isn’t it?’ ‘Is the rudder supposed to be there on the ground?’ ‘Is that trailer really road worthy? The tyres look bald’. ‘I thought you were looking for a motor vessel – this is a sailing boat. Do you know how to sail?’

This friend doesn’t have to be confrontational and some of the comments may be na├»ve but one or two questions will hit the spot and make me think before I commit to an unfortunate purchase. I of course will be free to listen to the questions or dismiss them but if I can’t give a satisfactory answer then I should think long and hard before committing to purchase. After all, there is nothing worse than someone saying ‘I told you so’. 

Chances are though that the friend will have to be patient, understanding and pretty thick skinned. Walking away from a potential relationship ( even with a boat) can be painful and people who try to offer support often find themselves bearing the brunt of resentment.  


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Cape Henry

Following on from yesterday's post about the Cape Cutter, I was somewhat depressed by the price and my lack of resources. I was also worried by my emotional approach to discovering the ideal boat. To date, the only boats I have looked at have been the traditional replicas or derivatives from traditional boat types. Maybe I am nineteenth century man locked in twentieth century body. Either way, it seems I am attracted to classic lines - and boats like this tend to sell for more money than I can muster. Still, I persevered, searching the net for information on the design and the more I looked the more sure I was that she wasn't the right boat for me despite my strong and instant emotional attachment.

 As a minimum I need a boat that will take me confidently and regularly across at least 35 miles of open sea between France and the Channel Islands. The Cape Cutter, is frequently described as a 'coaster', a 'weekender' and a 'gunkholer', so maybe she's too small and not robust enough for my needs.

Just as I'd put serious thoughts of her to one side however, I discovered that she is also available as a plywood kit. Well. perhaps I should say she was available until recently. It appears however, that the rights to offer her as a kit were tied up with the rights to produce GRP versions from a mould. Now, a new company has bought the GRP production rights and have stopped selling the plywood kit version. Plans are available but not kits. Ahg! foiled again, maybe I could manage to build from a kit - but from plans only? Probably beyond my capabilities.

But then I discovered that the Cape Cutter designer also produced a 21ft footer called the Cape Henry and that a Turkish company  (Ertug Muhendislik) is producing a kit for 2,900 euros. I also discovered that a guy in France had the kit delivered for only £270.(sorry about all the currencies). Anyway the upshot is that the Cape Henry might just be worth further exploration even though she is a centreboarder, and probably quite small inside.

I read somewhere, that the shell of a boat represents about one third the cost of getting afloat. In effect, once she's built you'll need to factor in additional costs for paint, varnish, engine, anchor, flares and all the technology you feel you'll need. A quick rule of thumb suggests that you should multiply the kit price by three to obtain a realistic view of the project cost. This, just about makes the Cape Henry achievable within my budget. But, I need to read more. If anyone out there knows anything about this craft, please make a comment below or email me.

If any one else is interested the Turkish company web address is



Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Cape Cutter


Today I am in Jersey Channel Islands UK, a tiny island 9 miles by 5, home to some 90,000 lucky people who enjoy living in Britain’s sunniest location. Unfortunately, not today, the weather at the moment is wet and very windy. Today in Jersey is a public holiday, Liberation Day. Jersey and the other Channel Islands were the only parts of Great Britain to be occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. On this day in 1945, they were liberated by a British task force.

So, what did I do on a wet and windy public holiday? Pretty much the same as what you would do if you were in my shoes, trying to obtain a cruising boat for very little money. I took myself off to the harbour on the off chance the ideal boat might be sitting there in the marina.

Did I find the boat? Yes and no! Yes because I found Cape Cutter 19 for sale there. She’s a classic traditional sailing cutter, so overwhelmingly beautiful that I was instantly reminded why I have spent so many years sailing. Just looking at her, I was reminded of  the slap of canvass in the wind, the hiss of the bow wave, the chuckle of water under the transom, the creaking of the lines and rigging. Here is a boat which brings back all the romance of the sea. Love at first sight.

The cape cutter 19 is a classic coastal cruiser she looks traditional but she is constructed in modern materials and has a reputation for a quality of performance to match any other sailing cruiser of similar proportions. The owner tells me she’s fast and fun to sail. With her versatile cutter rig, a long shallow keel and distinctive plumb bow for directional stability, she’s an ideal boat for short hop coastal cruising, and her shallow draft and retractable centre plate means she’s also ideal for exploring islands estuaries and rivers.

Down below she has good accommodation for her size a full sized double v berth, two quarter berth seats, a galley area and work surface. The cabin is light airy and comfortable.

Her design originates from the classic old gaff cutter work boats and it successfully combines old world charm with modern day advancements in construction, performance and comfort. I discovered later (although I should have known from first glance, that she comes from Honnor Marine, a very well respected builder.

So, if she were just a little bigger, and if she were a tenth of the price, she could be my kind of boat, a simple craft for simple pleasure with a capability to look after her skipper and crew more than they deserve. She’s not for me unfortunately but take a look at her, you won’t be disappointed.


Designer                                              Dudley Dix

Length Over All                                   7.2M
Beam                                                   2.2M
Draft                                                    Centre plate up 0.45M, Centreplate down 1.22M
Displacement                                       1100 kgs
Ballast                                                  400kgs
Rigg                                                     Gaff or Bermudan cutter
Recommended engine                         6hp short shaft
Positive stability to                               110 degrees
Price (sail away)                                  £18,750 inc vat trailer (Approx)
Standard colours                                  Navy hull, Ivory deck




Bob and Norma Brown
Tel: +44 (0)1706 715986  Fax: 01706 342576 / mobile: 07762 054793


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Knot, Bend or Hitch, What’s The Difference?

I posted a couple of pieces about rope recently which led me to wonder about the terms used for rope work – in particular the differences between a Knot, a Bend and a Hitch. Am I becoming an ‘anorak’ or some kind of ‘geek’?  I mean, does it really matter – so long as you know what to do with the blessed thing? Ok, well yes, maybe I am becoming a bit of a nerd, a bit academic maybe. And, this distraction certainly isn’t moving me towards finding that elusive low cost ideal cruising boat that I’m seeking. Still, when questions like this spring to mind, I usually reach for the most thumbed pages of any book in my library the 'Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea'. As usual, it didn’t let me down. If you’re interested here is the answer.

In truth the terms are pretty much interchangeable. These days the word ‘knot’ is often the preferred word. Some argue that in days gone by the terms had much more defined usage but this may not be true either because many of the names originally given to methods of fastening ropes were technically inaccurate. A reef 'knot', for example might be better described as a Bend or a Hitch.

Strictly speaking a Knot only refers to a ‘tucking knot’ in which the strands of a rope are unravelled and then tucked over and under each other to form a ‘stopper knot’, a knob or enlargement in the rope so that the end of a rope could not be pulled through an eye. The most common stopper knot in use today would be the ‘Figure of Eight Knot’ used by sailing boat crews to stop the end of the jib sheets flying free, but even this doesn’t meet the strict definition because the ends of the rope are not unravelled to create it. The most famous true knot therefore is probably the Matthew Walker knot, in which unravelled rope ends are used to put an elaborate knob on the end.
Figure of Eight

Another important aspect of the term however, relates to whether the fastening is regarded as permanent or temporary. A Knot implies a permanent fastening whereas a Bend or a Hitch is used as a temporary measure.

A Bend, is a term originally used to join one rope to another or to an object. When sails were fastened by ropes they were ‘bent to’ masts, yards and booms. The anchor cable is said to be ‘bent’ to the anchor.

Now this is where it becomes really complicated because according to the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea a ‘Hitch’ has an identical definition ‘the name given to a series of fastenings by which a rope is joined to another rope or object’.

So Hitches are the saitches areme as Bends? Well yes, they come within the overall genus of Bends but they are Hitch’s if the name says so – as in ‘half-hitch’, ‘rolling hitch’, ‘clove-hitch’.

Confusing? You bet!


Monday, 7 May 2012

 It Shouldn’t Happen to a Sailor (6): Taking DIY Too Far

OK, I have to own up here. Previous ‘shouldn’t happen’ postings have been about other people. This one is about me.

About twenty years ago, I bought a little 19ft Seawytch sailing cruiser to keep and sail at Kielder Water a huge lake in Northumberland UK. Kielder is the largest man-made lake in Europe set among pine forests close to the Scottish border. It was a high altitude windy location and the lake was large enough to allow serious waves to develop, so sailing there was not dissimilar to sailing a Scottish sea loch.

I’d bought the boat from a military guy who did everything by the book. The boat was crammed with gear and equipment, carefully maintained, all shipshape and Bristol fashion. If I had one minor criticism it would be that the previous owner had ‘over-stocked’ the inventory. There was enough anchor cable to secure the boat to the bottom of the deepest Atlantic trench, and the anchor and kedge were large enough to hold a small battleship.  The range of flares stowed aboard exceeded the ‘off-shore’ requirement and the fenders, when not in use, filled the entire forward cabin. 

The fact that the boat was equipped more for an ocean voyage than an afternoon sail around the lake was particularly evident when the first aid medical pack was opened, the quantity and range of equipment in there would have put a military field-hospital to shame.  It even contained a DIY dentistry kit, complete with instructions on how to extract or fill your own tooth.

What's in your kit?
My problem began at the start of the long Easter weekend break, four days of public holiday, a period when most dentists and pharmacies were closed. The start of the break coincided with a dull ache in an upper right molar, a tooth which had shed part of its filling a few weeks before.

Yes, I should have gone to my dentist immediately, but I don’t like pain and dentists scare me. Anyway loosing the filling hadn’t resulted in immediate pain so I presumed it didn’t matter.  Well it did matter, because while friends were away launching their boats for the coming season and enjoying an unusually mild and sunny Easter Saturday,  I was sitting at home, morose, nursing an ever worsening pain in the jaw.Then I had an idea, I could fix the problem myself using the DIY dentistry kit on the boat. 

To fill your own tooth, the instructions said I had to wash my mouth with a pink solution from the kit. Then I had to take the cotton wool (supplied) to pack between my tooth and cheek, thus drying the area and protecting the rest of my mouth. I then had to heat up a small piece of metal (looking suspiciously like cold solder). I managed this by putting it in a spoon and holding it over the gas cooker. The next bit was more tricky. Somehow I had to get the hot amalgam from the spoon to my tooth. In the end I achieved this by taking a fork from the kitchen drawer, bending all the tines back, except one, dipping the remaining tine into the metal and then rushing the fork into my mouth to smear the metal over the hole in my tooth. It was a long operation and I managed to miss the tooth on several occasions, the result was that I had several pieces of metal attached to innocent teeth which had required no treatment. Worse was to come however. When I attempted to remove the cotton wool, I discovered that it was stuck fast. The metal had effectively glued it to my tooth.  My DIY efforts had given me a furry tooth and the pain hadn’t diminished, if anything it was worse. To add to my woes, sharp bits of metal were cutting into my tongue and all the prodding and poking had made my jaw more painful than ever. 

After a stiff slug of Whiskey, I managed to file away the bits of rogue metal, but the only way to dislodge the cotton wool, was to take the fork and dig out the metal filling the hole. Painful slow work which was not 100% successful. Significant tufts of cotton wool remained firmly attached.

There was nothing for it but to make an appointment with a dentist. He looked at my mouth and listened to my explanation for the wool and bits of shrapnel he found in there. He then left the room and returned with a colleague a few minutes later, wiping his eyes for some reason. The colleague took a look made a choking kind of noise and left the room.

It took about an hour for the dentist to clear the cotton wool and iron from my mouth and then he dropped the real bombshell.
‘Well that’s tidied up the mess. Nothing wrong with the tooth by the way, never was.  It’s a gum infection. It can easily happen, take these tablets that’ll sort it.’


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Hardy Motorsailer


Hardy Motorsailer
Still thinking about motorsailers and wondering if a Colvin Watson may be a bit too aspirational for my pocket. Lower down the price scale there is a pretty good looking 20 footer called a Hardy Motorsailer. I had a good look around one in the drying harbour in Jersey last year. As a sheltered-water weekender she could offer a great deal of fun with the power to get you home if the wind turns against you. The accommodation is much better than you would expect of a sailing boat of the same size but these boats are small and relatively light so I’d think twice about extended open sea cruising in one. Not on my list therefore.

I suppose one consideration with a motorsailer is whether you are buying a motorboat with some sailing capacity or a sailing boat with a larger than average engine. Traditional thinking is that you can’t have your cake and eat it a motorsailer is good at one thing or another but not both.

But, now for another idea. As you move towards bigger and more modern boats, maybe the traditional concept of a motorsailer begins to ‘blur’. Engines have become progressively lighter and more powerful and this has allowed many manufacturers to pack a lot more power into increasingly smaller spaces. So the old idea is gone. A sailing yacht auxiliary engine is no longer merely used to get into and out of harbour. These days many sailing craft carry power units that would put a traditional motorsailer to shame. Take the Westerly Centaur for example, designed in the 1960s and described as a ‘gentleman’s yacht’, an out an out sailing boat. Despite the description, she carried a beefy 25hp inboard diesel as standard. In effect, she was (and is) a motorsailer in every sense of the word. So, maybe I can have my cake and eat it.

Hardy Motorsailers: Can vary enormously some have inboard engines – many have outboards.
LOA 20’
Draft 2’6”
Engine – often a largish outboard such as a Honda 50
Price - £10,000 - £15,000 depending on age and configuration


Saturday, 5 May 2012


Making a list of boats which might suit my needs the other day, I mentioned a Colvic Watson Motorsailer as an option. Then yesterday, Michael commented that he had a great deal of respect for them – even though many people would find them pretty ugly craft. Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I’m with Michael on this point. They are heavy traditional looking serious vessels and, to my eyes at least, they have a beauty all of their own – built out of their ruggedness and practicality.
Traditional fishing vessels - the inspiration behind Motorsailers

So, motorsailers might be a bit like Marmite sandwiches, you either love or hate them. Why should that be? Have they had a bad press? Are they out of date or are they simply misunderstood?

One view is that, at best, they are a strange hybrid sort of craft, borne out of commercial fishing vessels, lacking the right shaped hull to be driven efficiently under power, and far too heavy to be effective sailing boats. At best they are mediocre sailing vessels and slow displacement motorboats. With a motorsailer you get the worst of both worlds.

There are other views of course. Supporters argue that their powerful hulls and rugged scantlings make them excellent sea boats, slow maybe, but dependable craft that will take you anywhere and get you through the worst that the wind and water can throw at you.

I suppose there is an element of truth in both arguments. In the 1950’s many UK motorsailer manufacturers drew a great deal upon commercial fishing vessel designs. You’ll find plenty of examples still around and their lineage is written large in their general hull shape, the powerful bow and the curving shear line much loved by motorsailer enthusiasts. Early examples also carried very heavy slow turning diesel engines which did nothing to enhance speed under power and which contributed a great deal to limiting sailing performance.

Across the Atlantic however, ideas about motorsailer design were very different. No less an authority than Norman I Skene, author of countless articles and the classic book ‘Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design’ (get it on Amazon) was a well-known supporter of the concept. For him the essential difference between a sailing boat and a motorsailer was the ability to drive straight into the wind in a lumpy sea under power alone.

‘the wind quickly freshens to a strong breeze and the head seas build up. You soon notice that with all the resulting pitching you are really not making much headway. Going slower and slower straight into it, there is only one thing to do. Beat to windward under shortened sail. If you were on a sailboat that could keep going under power into the same head sea and get there sooner, your boat should be called a motorsailer.’

He also argued that such craft should be liable for lower insurance payments on the grounds that they would be able to power their way off a lee shore whereas a sailing boat might easily become embayed.

He went on to say:

Motorsailers are in my opinion an excellent type of yacht in every respect. They combine the better of two worlds. The best of the world of out and out sailing vessels and the best of the world of displacement type powerboats. I would say that they are more seaworthy than a sailboat because of their huskier higher sided hulls and more seaworthy than a power boat because with their sails set they do not have the uncomfortable motion of a power boat in a seaway.’

He was an American of course, and the motorsailers he was so fond of were a very different breed of vessel to those known in the UK. His motorsailers were large expensive cruisers, purpose built for a generation of yachtsmen who had a disposable income undreamed of in the UK.

On this side of the Atlantic, there is an argument to suggest that the critics of our homegrown motorsailers never really understood them. As sailing boats, it’s true that they were never anything to write home about but then how many sailing boat enthusiasts these days rely simply on the canvass to get them to their destination. Faced with a headwind ten miles out of Cherbourg after a five or six hour crossing from the UK how many sailing boat crews would be happy to spend another four or five hours tacking to their destination? Who wouldn’t wish for an engine powerful enough to take the wind and waves on the nose to get them directly to their destination in less than half that time. Motorsailers may be slow under power, but at least under engine they can point directly to their destination and get you there quicker.

So why not simply buy a motorboat? Because as every sailing boat owner knows, when the wind is right, working with you rather than against, there is nothing better than to close down the engines and enjoy the trip without the noise, smell and vibration that large engines produce. When it’s good, it’s very very good!

So what about a Colvic Watson, the mother of all UK motorsailers? These craft have an almost fanatical fan club. Heavily built with powerful engines and a wheelhouse taken straight from a North Sea trawler, they are the nautical equivalent of the chieftain tank. A Colvic Watson will take you anywhere. They date back to the 1970’s but they were heavily built and their powerful diesels were built to last. Get a good example and you’ve got a vessel for life. The problem for me is that prices for well maintained example can start at around £20,000.

But maybe, just maybe there might be one out there with sound ) Perkins 48hp diesel engine, needing a new owner and a lot of TLC.

So, for now, Colvic Watsons stay on my list. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes – with a surprising number of engine configurations. The most affordable are probably the 25footers.


Friday, 4 May 2012

Cornish Shrimper

SO, by pure accident I managed to scramble over a couple of boats today which I had put on my list of ‘possible’ contenders yesterday. Both boats were Cornish Shrimpers. The first one was in a broker’s yard in St Briec, a small town in Brittany ten or fifteen miles from my home base in Plouer. It turns out that this particular broker is the sole Shrimper importer in France and, thanks to his efforts, there is a sizable fleet of these craft in the neighbourhood. (There's a link to the website at the foot of this page)

For those of you unfamiliar with the Shrimper, it is a 19ft replica of the sailing fishing boats used in Cornwall UK in the 19th century. As you can imagine it is a beautiful characterful boat with great appeal to the traditionalist. She has a long shallow keel, with a retractable fin, straight stem, bowsprit, wooden mast, gaff rigged as a cutter. Yet despite her looks, she has a reputation for a good turn of speed and a respectable performance to windward. I have never sailed one but I imagine she’ll be exciting.

The Shrimper comes with inboard or an outboard in a well. Most examples seem to have black or green hull with white or cream topsides. Despite the fact that she is built in GRP, there is plenty of wood trim to emphasise her lineage. 

Sitting in the cockpit, while she was on a road trailer (unfortunately), I was impressed by the idea of an outboard in a well. From a low cost cruising point of view it seemed to offer the best of both worlds. The prop is deep and protected like an inboard, but the entire engine can be lifted out for maintenance, repair or winter storage. Accommodation is within a cabin flush with the deck, this makes for a reasonable working space near the mast but very little room within. Essentially there are two berths, separated by the keel housing and a tiny forepeak, just about large enough for a single burner gas stove. Cabin height gives you  enough room to sit without banging your head but nothing more.  Many owners have addressed the lack of accommodation by fitting boom tents to enclose the cockpit when the vessel is at rest.  On that basis, at best you would have to describe her as a ‘weekender’ rather than a cruising boat and at 19ft, she’s a bit too small for my requirements. My main reason for knocking her off my list however, is her cost. Even an old second-hand example can take £10,000 out of your pocket, so nine out of ten of these vessels will be way beyond my price range.

Or so I thought. Later in the day, I visited Livret Marina on the river Rance close to Dinan. There I found the saddest most neglected Shrimper I have ever seen. According to the local boatmen, she belongs to an eighty year old Englishman who hasn’t sailed her for years. He’s had countless offers to buy her but steadfastly refuses on the grounds that his fate, and that of the boat, are somehow mysteriously linked. In effect he believes that selling the boat will seal his fate and bring on his own demise.

In an ideal world, someone would offer to maintain the boat for him, in return for permission to sail her now and again. Unfortunately, this isn’t the right boat for me – otherwise I’d follow up the idea.

Still, I should take heart – there are craft around, potentially at the right price, if you’re prepared to look. Here's one I found within my price range. It's an old French railway carriage on a raft with an antique outboard bolted on the back. Mmmm well after some consideration - no thanks.

Maybe I should take up Michael’s comment from a few weeks ago and think about making a visit to the USA where boats seem to be cheaper.