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.