Friday, 22 February 2013

Non Slip Companion-Way Steps

 So, just as I was beginning to think that the worst of winter is over, the temperatures fall and we find ourselves in the coldest of cold snaps experienced to date. We have had a week of severe frosts and there is more to come.

This isn’t a time for cleaning or painting the exterior of the boat, so work has migrated to some of the smaller improvements that can be done, sitting by the warmth of a wood burning stove.

There are some things on and about this old boat that are very practical but also very ugly. Having sanded and oiled the companionway steps into the cabin I’m very pleased with the dark orange colour of the Iroko wood. I’m less pleased however with the grey trackmark treads that had originally been glued to each step to provide a non-slip surface and, having stripped them off, I can’t bear the thought of recovering the wood with a similar replacement.

So, last week it was back to the books looking for alternative ideas. I eventually came across something in a long out-of-date work – ‘The Marlinspike Sailor’ written by Hervey Garrett Smith (David & Charles 1972). In this book he describes a number of rope mats that were made up out of old used rope to serve a variety of purposes on the old nineteenth century square-riggers. Some were known as ‘thump mats’ laid on deck around blocks to protect the wood when tension came off the rope and the block would clatter onto the deck. Others were used to protect decks in port when landsmen would come aboard bringing grit on the soles of their shoes. Some were made to provide non-slip surfaces for crew in key areas.

So, here is my solution – one of these mats for each of the steps. The first one took several attempts to make but once you get the hang of it, the pattern is remarkably easy to follow. I’m now sure yet quite how to secure the mat to the step – Hervey Garrett Smith suggests escutcheon pins (whatever they are!).


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Boat Maintenance in France

 Bear with me. This Blog is about renovating a boat – but there is a context, the boat and its owner are English, the location is France – and that makes some things different – not better or worse – just different.

In my last post I reported that my boat was built to UK specifications (Imperial measurements) good old feet and inches, whereas my tools seem to be all metric. As a result I had to resort to some drastic measures to remove some items from her. It felt more like vandalism that restoration. Well, now here are a few other differences I have encountered this week.

Firstly, I have discovered the ‘price’ of living in a truly beautiful rural area – distances are vast and fuel bills are high. Popping down to my nearest chandler is a thirty mile round trip. It’s a beautiful trip but a long way to go for a stainless steel jubilee clip. Careful planning and thinking ahead doesn’t pay dividends but it keeps costs down. It’s even harder to find Marine ply in the sizes I require. My first port of call was Bois Marine at St Malo – they had the stuff alright but only as full size metric equivalents of standard 8’x4’ sheets. For smaller amounts I was advised to contact individual boat builders to see if they have suitable off-cuts from other jobs. These tend to be sole traders or family businesses and their premises are only open when they are around. A builder who gains a few days work down at the marina may not bother to open his yard for several days on end.

Well that’s OK; I have time, so a day spent touring boatyards in the hope that one or two will be open is no great hardship for me – in fact I enjoy it, except for the two and a half hour’s ‘dead’ period between noon and two thirty when there is no point visiting anywhere at all because the entire region (many supermarkets included) is ‘at lunch’.  It’s a different approach to life, and its one of the things that attracted me here so I’m not complaining but on occasion I have been left kicking my heals in some pretty distant and obscure places waiting for the end of a long lunch break only to be told that the item I’m seeking is not available.

When it comes to hard wood, I have admitted defeat. The original wood on this boat was Iroko (called African Teak by the builder) but this area of France is full of Oak. Excellent mature Oak is available everywhere – Teak, Iroko and Mahogany are considered to be rare and exotic. As a result these species are difficult to locate and extremely expensive so any new wood brought aboard will be have to be Oak.

The strangest thing however, was my encounter with bilge-paint. I have decided that all the bilges should be cleaned and re-painted. This decision is not based on an obsessive desire for neatness or cleanliness, rather a practical view that clean bilges are a good indicator of a boat’s health. If, for example, I launch with pristine bilges and subsequently discover rust stains or watermarks, I can assume I have a problem in that location. If however, I launch with dirty oil and water stained bilges I might not know I have a problem until seawater laps around by ears.

Now, to my simple eye, Red Danboline (International Paints) is the best. I have used it before, it brings bilges back to ‘as-new’ condition, and oil, rust or water make obvious stains on it.  International Paints produce Danboline in Red and Gray (possibly white also). For some reason however, the red isn’t available in France. Now this isn’t simply an oversight on the part of International Paints, it is a decision that someone has taken. Red Damboline is actually marked as ‘unavailable in France’ in their publicity. Fortunately I visited the UK recently and came back with some from there. So is there something about the Red Damboline that the French authorities know about? Something sinister? Toxic? Dangerous? If so, I wish they’d tell me.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Boating Confessions – sometimes it feel like…

Am I renovating this boat or destroying her? Well, today I have to confess to two acts of destruction and one unholy thought – giving away my Roman Catholic upbringing here – but I have an excuse which I’ll come to in a moment, firstly the acts of destruction.

Act One.

Along both edges of the cockpit well there were solid wood beams which acted as runners for two marine ply sliding doors which offered access to lockers under the seats. The marine ply doors were ugly, delaminated and, in one case, swollen so that opening and closing was very difficult. The runners were held in place by bolts through the GRP seat moulding and they were not pretty, one had been shortened at some point and one had several soft spots. Economy should have suggested careful removal of the runners and maybe replacement of the doors. The bolts however were rusted and didn’t want to budge. I managed to remove a couple but, well there is always at least one which doesn’t want to play – in my case there were several. I coated them in penetrating oil last week but it had no effect. I was also hampered by the fact that my tools are metric whereas the boat was built to good old fashioned feet and inches – so tools, spanners and the like, are always either a trifle too big or small. When they are too big it’s very easy to round off the angle of the nut and then the job becomes impossible. One option was to try to saw through the bolt but the heads were sunk into the wood and dowelled over and from the other side (inside the locker) they were unreachable. Well, the wood wasn’t in very good condition so it was relatively easy to cut it away in sections – and then the bolts were easy to remove with a pair of blot croppers – job done, but nothing is recoverable, the wood is good only for the stove – so I now have to fashion some new ones out of hardwood and make up two new locker doors. Mmmm not sure my woodworking is up to it.

Act Two

Two marine ply bulkheads either side of the companion way hatch are as ugly as sin itself. They’re covered in an almost black varnish with an assortment of holes drilled through at various times to accommodate electrical wires and screws to attach instruments. The wiring is frightening tangle; some of the threads seem to go nowhere. To call it a cobweb would be an insult to the whole arachnid species. I was pretty sure I’d have to re-wire the boat but now it’s certain, I cut through hundreds of wires in an attempt to get the bulkheads out.


Varnish lovers, forgive me for what I am about to do. I spent a good deal of time sanding the face of these bulkheads with a view to varnishing but having got back to the original wood, well its just plain ugly. I don’t like it – the colour is non-descript, neither a rich mahogany nor a pale beach, the overriding colour is grey with a black grain in places. I don’t know what it is but a clear varnish will not be the solution and I don’t like woodstain. So my solution will be to paint the wooden bulkheads and edge them with varnished hardwood strips. I’m thinking too of running some vertical strips of hardwood down the bulkheads at 4 inch intervals before painting to give the impression of planking rather than ply. We’ll see – and I’d appreciate your thoughts. 

In the meantime I’m trying to console myself  with Belgian beer and by remembering that if you wish to make an omelette you have to start by breaking a few eggs.