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.