Monday, 21 December 2015

Small Boat Heroes (and Heroines)

There are sailing and boating heroes, people we all know, whose names are spoken only in hushed reverential terms – Chay Blithe, Joshua Slocum, Francis Chichester. But then there are others, less famous perhaps, but equally deserving of the title. One such couple is Dave and Natalie. Did they sail non-stop around the world against all prevailing winds and currents? Did they pass through Drakes Passage or take the long route around Cape Horn?

Nope, they did something far more adventurous. They cooked a four course Christmas Dinner on board their partially restored English Narrow boat on the deepest darkest reaches of the Isle et Villaine canal somewhere in Brittany. I was witness to their achievement and I can confirm it was the best Christmas dinner I have ever eaten!

The boat was bedecked with lights and garlands, the Champagne was served perfectly chilled after having rested in the cockpit for a few hours and the cabin was a haven of tropic heat thanks to the efforts of the driftwood burning stove which burned brightly throughout the evening. The electric cooker was powered by an extension lead connected to a socket in a public toilet further along the towpath.

We had – home-made salmon pate with country bread, roast free-range chicken with vegetables
cooked in the pan juices, pork, chestnut and cranberry stuffing, and all the trimmings. For dessert we had spiced bread and butter pudding. There was also a cheese course but no-one could manage it. 

There was beer,Champagne, white Muscadet and Red Bordeaux. Crackers were pulled, stories were told and presents were exchanged. 

Then a tot of Monkey’s Shoulder Whiskey set us up for the trip home along the towpath, not drunk but pretty mellow, full of food and good cheer. It doesn’t get better than that – Merry Christmas everyone!


Sunday, 13 December 2015

Boat Renovation: Yes But Is It Art?

Bright and sunny winter days. Normally, this time of year we can expect frost and freezing fog but here in Brittany the winter has been uncharacteristically benign. This year so far, the Atlantic depressions have tracked north bringing storms and floods to the UK but here the seasons are confused; here we have spring flowers blooming and autumn leaves still on the trees. 

Work on the boat has continued. I have shore-power, a coffee pot, an electric boat heater and lighting. A tarpaulin over the boom means I can protect the cockpit and main hatch and keep the cabin ventilated without fear of rain entering the vessel. It’s a comfortable place to be – to work on the area behind and above the wood-burning stove, to renovate the space that used to be the toilet – or simply to run through a few blues tunes on an old guitar that I keep on board for emergencies (might have to use it as a paddle one day).

So here is the new fresh water tank, semi-installed, a few pipes, wires and securing straps to fit and then I will have running water on demand in the galley. 

Meanwhile, what to do with those long winter evenings? Well, I found a couple of old brass portholes in a car-boot sale the other day. I paid 3E (£2.10) for them. Back home I cut pieces of old MDF to fit and then painted a couple of appropriate naïve nautical scenes on them. I fitted them to the bulkhead in the main cabin yesterday and was quite pleased with the result. Sometimes even the simplest most trivial efforts can bring a sort of reward.

Is it art? Nope not by any stretch of the imagination! But its fun.


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Sea Toilet on a Small Boat

I’ve removed the old sea toilet from the boat and as a result two more holes in the hull have been glassed in. Now there is only one through-hull fitting, the sink drainer – I don’t like holes in boat hulls but I guess I can live with that. At the moment I’m back working in the cabin cleaning and sanding the old toilet compartment and the space opposite where the charcoal burning stove lives. I’m also considering how best to use the space. Susan, I think, would like to use the old toilet compartment as a hanging locker and store for food and clothes. The toilet, I suppose could be located in the fore-cabin, a solution often seen on smaller boats, but I’m not convinced, not sure I want to sleep over a toilet.

There is also a question regarding the best toilet replacement. A small ‘porta-potty’ might be the best solution, a chemical loo that can be emptied at the end of each voyage. Alternatively, I could use the idea recently posted to me by Davy, a good friend and reader of this blog. Seems fine to me but Susan is less convinced, maybe she just doesn’t like the colour of the seat – well there is no accounting for taste!


Monday, 26 October 2015

Boat Renovation: Alternative Strategies

I’m in my third year of restoring this old boat. It’s taken so long that I’m now in maintenance mode – that’s to say, I have to devote increasing amounts of time to maintaining the renovation work I have done. Time spent re-varnishing, re-polishing or painting, takes away from the time I can devote to pushing the project forward. Do I, or did I have an alternative?

Well, one of the most interesting aspects of keeping a blog is that you develop correspondence and dialogue with a wide variety of people with similar interests and passions, so I can be sure that there are alternatives to the lengthy route I took. Here are two examples from people I met during the course of this journey.

Firstly, a guy called Tudor. He comes from an area of Eastern Europe just about as far from the sea as you can get. When I started my blog he didn’t have a boat and he didn’t know how to sail but he was passionate and driven; seems like the call of the sea can be heard even far away inland. Tudor was fortunate in that he has an internet based job so he can work anywhere (providing there is an internet connection close by) and he has a pilot’s license so understanding the rudiments of boat navigation don’t present a problem.

The first step and the hardest according to Tudor, was to strip away all the reasons for not doing what he wanted to do, bite the bullet and reduce his workload, pack a bag, and head for Brittany in search of a boat. He looked at several and eventually settled on a small cruiser of the popular ‘peche / promenade’ type, extremely popular in this region. She was sound but without engine and run-down in every respect. The price he paid reflected her condition.

He moved on board and negotiated a mooring in a small fishing village. From that point on, the boat became his home and his classroom. When the weather was bad, he renovated, when the weather was good, he taught himself to sail. Local fishermen took an interest in him and respected his efforts so he received help and advice in plenty. By the end of the season, his boat looked good and he was a pretty confident sailor and seaman. Without engine, every passage and manoeuvre he made was achieved under sail.

By the end of the summer he was lean, tanned, confident and capable, and the boat had been renovated to meet his particular needs. I met him last year and at that point he was renovating an old outboard and contemplating a new adventure, crossing the Atlantic aboard another boat, more suitable for long distance blue water cruising. Armed with his experience, he’ll buy one for a song and renovate her for the trip. I haven’t heard from him for a while – maybe he’s already on the other side of the puddle.

Another guy, Dave, bought a Channel Islands 22 a few years ago. He got her for an extremely low price because, despite the size of her engine, she was slow. Nothing, it seemed, could be done to induce her semi-displacement hull, to rise over the bow wave and plane. A boat which should have been capable of at least 13 Knots could never achieve more than 7. She had a bad reputation and no-one wanted to buy her. Davy took a look at her and noticed two stub keels, fitted to allow her to remain upright when drying out in local harbours. Those keels were not on the original drawings made by her designer Alan Buchanan. Could those keels be the reason why this boat was so sluggish? Davey took a chance, bought the boat for a very low price, cut off the keels – and she flew! He dropped in a newly reconditioned engine and now she achieves 16 Knots. He put in an intensive 1000 hours work, evenings and weekends and now she is pretty much the best example of her type that you will find. He keeps her in showroom condition.

But Dave didn’t stop there. On a trip to France last year aboard his Channel Islands 22 he came across an old English narrow-boat on the river. She was owned by a  Guernsey man who had used her as a weekend home. She was for sale, but there had been little interest. French canals are wider than English ones so French barges can be wider. Who on earth would want a boat so narrow?

Dave bought the boat for roughly half the asking price because the owner couldn’t get the engine started. He took a risk and it paid off. A friend cleared a few air-locks in the fuel line and she has run sweet ever since. There was a fully functional log-burning stove on board worth about £1500. We has since joked that Dave actually bought a log-burner which came attached to a 40ft steel hulled vessel with a Volvo inboard.

‘Tired’ was perhaps the best way to describe Dave and Natalie’s new boat. Structurally she was sound but she had a kind of worn-out look to her. They brought her down the canal to the first boatyard on the estuary that could handle her length and weight and they had her lifted out. Then they used every short winter holiday, or long weekend to transform her into a vessel that you could take pride in. 

Vacation time was precious but they didn’t waste a second of it. Each time they arrived at the
boatyard, they had a list of jobs and all the tools and materials they needed. They negotiated a power source and, under halogen lamps, they worked well into the night - every night. Jobs were prioritised and sequenced to ensure there were no delays; coats of paint and varnish were applied to ensure that they dried overnight. Exterior jobs were done in daylight. Interior jobs were reserved for the periods before dawn and after sunset. On occasions when Dave came alone, his day usually started at 4 am and finished well after midnight. Food came in the form of canned meals, warmed up and eaten when required – chilly-con-carne, beans and sausage or Couscous. This summer they re-launched and cruised back up the canal aboard a transformed boat. They had heating, lighting, refrigeration, hot and cold water and a shower. The boat exterior was freshly painted, below the waterline she was epoxy’d   and anti-fouled. The cabin was clean and cosy. Even the black car-tyre fenders looked new. There is still work to do, but it is cosmetic in nature and you have to get to know your boat well before putting together those final touches. So the hard work is over and those final tasks can be done at a more leisurely pace. Their efforts confirm the validity of the old adage – ‘where there is a will, there’s a way’.


Friday, 9 October 2015

Outboard in a Well

One of my early decisions on renovating this old Westerly Nomad was to use an outboard as auxiliary power. Not an outboard hung off the transom however; I find them ugly and inefficient. Ugly because they look like an afterthought and inefficient because, in my experience, the prop is often lifted out of the water in any kind of a chop. Writers often refer to this as ‘cavitation’, this is not the correct term but it’s frequently used to describe the problem.

I wanted an outboard in a well because it seemed to me I might get the best of all worlds – a power unit, as efficient as an inboard engine where the prop is deep enough in the water to avoid the chances of it turning in the air at the top of every wave, allied to the lower cost of outboard repair and maintenance. It’s always cheaper to take your unit to a mechanic than have him visit your boat, cheaper also because he can get to the problem without having to stick his head into the bilges or lift out the engine.

The process of creating a well wasn’t particularly easy because it required the rudder to be relocated and hung off the transom. Fortunately this had already been done by a previous owner. He’d also made an attempt at creating the well but the work hadn’t been thought through properly and the building of the well walls left a lot to be desired. So, the whole thing was replaced and the cockpit remodelled on the advice of a marine engineer. Was it worth the effort?

Yes I think so, in fact you could almost argue that it has already paid for itself. This summer we ventured under motor along the canal that crosses Brittany linking the English Channel with the Atlantic. It is a narrow, shallow waterway that no longer carries commercial traffic. From the towpath it is a beautiful ribbon of water edged with hardwood forests, ancient chateaus, idyllic picturesque villages and pastoral scenes unchanged for hundreds of years. From the deck of a twin keel sailing boat however, it is a muddy weed-filled creak that tempts and then betrays the innocent navigator.

Four days into our cruise the engine began to overheat. Well at least I could lift it out of the well and carry it shore-side where I could work on it in relative comfort. Then, having confirmed that I had neither the tools nor the expertise to fix the problem, I was able to phone a friend and get the engine to a specialist engineer who ordered parts and fixed the problem within two days. Three days later I was cruising again and the cost of the repair was about £35. Now how much would it have been to call out the engineer for him to diagnose the problem and then return with the appropriate parts to fix it? I don’t know the answer but I’m pretty sure it would have been significantly more - given that the current average hourly rate for a marine mechanic is in the region of £30 per hour. 

Something tells me I got something right – unusual for me to do that.


Friday, 2 October 2015

Boat Cabin Comforts

I had a friend, a seadog if ever there was one. He used to buy his boats as bare hulls and fit them out himself to suit his particular requirements. The start of any new project involved him sitting in the bare hull with a packet of cigarettes, a six pack of strong beer, a note-book and pencil. According to him, the cabin would be designed before the beer and cigarettes were finished. Time and quiet contemplation were required in order to achieve perfection.

I can’t say I used that technique on my boat but the wisdom of his approach wasn’t lost on me. Until August my efforts were directed towards making the cabin reasonably clean and comfortable for a short cruise. The purpose of the cruise was to spend time thinking about how best to make the available space suit my needs. Living on board would provide the experience required to make sound judgments about the next steps in the restoration of this vessel.

Provisioning the boat, cooking, sitting in the cabin on a rainy night, sleeping on board, all contributed to my understanding of what was, and what was not required. Just like my old friend, I came off the boat with some firm ideas. Perhaps I should point out here though that my Westerly Nomad makes this task relatively easy, the cabin roof runs right across the boat, there are no side-decks and the foredeck is very small. In effect, the cabin space on this 23 footer, is pretty much what you would expect to find on a 26ft sailing boat. So planning for comfort shouldn’t be a problem.

Here’s is what I have decided to do (and not do). Firstly, for aesthetic reasons, I had decided to put a few wooden beams along the cabin roof to help hide the interior GPS. By way of preparation I had painted the interior matt white. The plan was also to fit ceiling lights to the beams, hiding the wiring behind the wood. Well, that plan has changed. The cabin height is OK but life aboard tells me not to lower it. The use of matt white paint has largely achieved the aesthetic need to hide the GRP interior (the gloss white which had been used previously seemed to highlight the uneven texture of the GRP). As for lighting, well I have a strip of LED pin lights over the sink and cooking area opposite and they work very well. They give much more light than I expected and best of all they are discrete, you see the light but not the lights. So I’ll use the same system in the main cabin with pin lights all along the port and starboard roof and I’ll hide the wires, lights and curtain hooks behind a ‘pelmet’ suitably drilled to allow the light to fill the space. Less work, less expense and more efficient.

I recently read an excellent book by Ian Nicolson (Build Your Own Boat). It’s a book I would
recommend to anyone contemplating renovation. He makes a very convincing argument for not fitting a sea toilet. According to him, the old bucket and chuck it system is much safer than running the risk of sinking due to failed sea cocks. I couldn’t agree more. Take out the toilet and there are two holes in the hull that you don’t need. Last year two very good friends, experienced and well qualified professional sailors, had to call out the RNLI after water started to gush into the hull of their vessel in mid-Channel. Their boat was one of the most solid cared for boats I have ever seen. Even so, they almost became a lifeboat statistic thanks to failed sea-toilet fittings. So, my sea-toilet is coming out and the holes will be glassed in. The spare space will become a hanging locker. Unfortunately, the old bucket and chuck it system can’t be used on my boat either, well, not if I want to keep Susan as crew. So a small porta-potty – chemical loo will be installed.

About cabin heating; I have a stainless steel charcoal or driftwood burning Bengco stove on board. It was made by a company in Southampton, or maybe the Isle of Wight, probably now out of business. I was nervous about it. GRP can melt and burn can’t it? And, also I was worried about fumes. Before my trip I invested in a small cheap Carbon Monoxide alarm which I fitted to the bulkhead. Then one afternoon, in driving rain and 37 knot winds, I plucked up the courage to light the thing. It’s an ingenious contraption. You load charcoal or driftwood in the top and put a firelighter in the ash-tray at the bottom. It lit first time and threw out lots of dry heat. There were no fumes and no gas alerts and there was something charming about the wisps of smoke coming out of the chimney on a cold and wet afternoon, a promise of comfort inside. The stove is definitely staying. But the decorative plastic surround has to go.

Interestingly enough, the carbon monoxide detector did sound an alarm during the cruise. It was on the last day when we were motoring down the estuary, the cabin hatch was open and we had a following wind – the cause of the alarm? A build up of outboard motor exhaust gasses – wafted into the cabin by the breeze. Well, at least I know it works.

Finally, cooking; the boat has a locker for a gas bottle in the cockpit and a pipe to the galley area but no stove. I had thought of investing in a stainless steel two burner and connecting it to the pipe but I don’t know how old the pipe is (1960’s boats had a habit of exploding due to inadequate standards of installation). For a while I considered Meths burning stoves such as those produced by Origo. Unfortunately my memory of Meths burners is similar to that of Jerome K Jerome (Three men in a boat) who suggested that every meal cooked on one tastes of meths. I am of course willing to be proved wrong on this point and if anyone cares to send me a meths cooker I’ll be happy to road test it and report results.

So, for the cruise I carried a Campingaz Camp Bistro – a small flat single burner that uses gas bottles the size of a can of spray paint. This, along with a portable barbeque used shore-side or over the side of the boat seemed to be all I needed. I like the idea of small canisters and I like the idea that they can be taken away from the stove when not required – so, for now at least the Campingaz cooker has earned her place as a permanent fixture.

Seems like I still have a lot to do.

US Readers can get Ian Nicolson's book - Build Your Own Boat here
Build Your Own Boat: Building and Fitting Out for Sail or Power

UK Readers can get Ian Nicolson's book - Build Your Own Boat here
Build Your Own Boat: Building and Fitting Out for Sail and Power


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Reasons to Renovate an Old Boat

I was contacted the other day by a guy in Wales who is about to embark on the restoration of an old Westerly Nomad like mine. His mail suggested that he knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. It also suggested that he had given a great deal of thought to the project so I have every confidence that he’ll do well. His note led me to consider why some people restore boats and why other people should give serious though to it before rushing out to buy the latest version from the jelly-mould. Here are a few ideas I cam up with.

The green argument: building a boat requires a significant use of resources. Why pollute the planet more by commissioning a new vessel when an old boat (which has already made its footprint) can be recycled and restored? Your restoration could give that old boat another twenty years of useful life – beat the man, beat the consumerists, save the planet and enjoy!

A lack of choice among more modern boats: do you want a powerboat which looks like it was pressed out of a jelly-mould, or a Bermudan sloop? That seems to be the choice among production line boats. Demand something different and you have to pay big money – look at the new or second-hand cost of a Cornish Shrimper.  Why pay more for a ‘look’ when the original vessel may be for sale in a creak somewhere near you. Essentially, older boats offer a wider spectrum of choice.

The option of reconfiguring to suit your personal needs: Do you really want four berths in the cabin or would two with an enlarged galley area suit you better? If you renovate, the choice is yours. The guy I refer to above is a single handed sailor. He doesn’t need four berths, but he does want an enlarged galley with a decent sized cooker, sink and working area. Try finding that option on a new boat!

The beauty and charm of a well cared for older boat: Old boats, even GRP vessels, can be classic craft. The same attraction that turns heads when a classic MGB roadster or an E Type Jaguar zips past, applies to boats. Just like vintage cars, there is something very attractive about a well cared for classic boat.

Deferring the cost: Buy a new boat or even a second hand one in decent condition and you’ll be expected to pay for her immediately. Restore an old boat and you spread the cost over a longer time-span, a pot of paint today a hank of rope next month. The longer it takes to bring the boat back, the longer you have to find the money.

Something about individuality: There is something special about a sailor. The call of the sea is a call to freedom, self reliance and standing away from the herd – and yet many of these individuals and freedom lovers drift or charge around the coast in jelly moulds – mass produced, all looking pretty similar. Take an old boat, renovate her, and you are sailing a classic. Yes she may have been mass produced at one time – but in those days mass production was defined in hundreds not thousands – and anyway there aren’t so many of them left. Stamp your own personality on your renovation and you have an individualist’s boat owned and sailed by an individualist. People will understand and respect that – even if they can’t articulate it.

Finally What is the alternative?: Well, an unloved and old GRP boat is broken up and scrapped. Not necessarily so bad – until you consider the scrapping options – they are few and far between. For a start, you can’t burn it. Burning GPR puts a huge and unacceptable volume of toxins into the air. You could, of course cut it up and put it in landfill, but it will be there for thousands of years. GRP isn’t exactly an inert material but it’s pretty close to it.

So there you have it Seaward’s excuse for doing what he’s doing. In truth, it’s satisfying occupation, a bit like gardening I suppose. There is a pleasure to be taken from achieving results, especially when you can sit back on a warm summer’s evening after a day’s work with a cold beer in your hand. A time to dream of gentle breezes and think of the voyages to come.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

A Short Cruise in France

July and August were pretty intensive months for renovating this old Westerly Nomad. I wanted to get her into a state where I could embark on a voyage – however small, and enjoy a degree of comfort. As a sailing vessel she would function well but the accommodation was, at best, a slum. No functioning toilet, no water, no cooker. First job was to clean paint and varnish to get a blank canvass at least. By mid august she began to feel habitable but hardly fit for a sea-going cruise.

I have two choices when I leave my home port – North takes me down the estuary to St Malo and the sea. South takes me to the head of the estuary and through a lock into the river. From there I can go to Dinan, a medieval town on the River Rance. If I lower the mast there I can cross Brittany via canal towards the Atlantic.

I didn’t intend to go quite so far, but a couple of weeks chugging along the canal getting to know this old boat seemed like an attractive proposition. At least on a canal there would be access to fresh water, electricity, toilets, showers, pretty villages, reasonable restaurants, butchers, bakers and pretty much anything else I needed. So, off came the mast and Susan (the boat) became a motor cruiser.

It was the best of times – and the worst of times. Before I left I tried to invent a word for it –
glamorous sailing, yachting or boating – glamoating or glamachting. A good friend hit the nail on the head I think – he came up with Gloating! So much for definitions and aspirations – the reality proved to be quite different.

The Rance estuary is truly beautiful, and they say a picture is worth a thousand words so here are some pics. 

We set off in warm sunshine on a rising tide, locked into the river and cruised southwards into the canal beyond Dinan. Locks on the canal are managed by professional lock keepers and are largely automated so there is little for a boat crew to do except hold the ropes while the boat is expertly raised or lowered to a new level. Lock-keeping must count as one of the best jobs in France, especially on this canal as there is no commercial traffic. As a lock keeper your cottage is going to be very pretty and set in a beautiful location. Best of all though, 90% of canal traffic comes through in August – take your annual vacation that month and you have little to do for the rest of the year. In August, students and artists take on jobs as temporary lock keepers and many locks become arts and crafts outlets for the summer.

Unfortunately the further south we went, the more weed we encountered. Flat bottomed canal and river boats manage to glide over or through this stuff, but Susan (with her triple keels) managed to pick up weed all along the route. Sometimes her speed was reduced to two knots even with the engine on full throttle.

We stayed a couple of days in the beautiful village of Evran and the temperature rose to 31 degrees C – only solution was to find a large oak tree and sit under it. The evenings were more bearable – cold beer and bank-side barbeques were a delight. But then, a local farmer decided to spray manure on his fields encouraging swarms of flies. We bought some window stickers that attract flies and kill them – but every time we opened a hatch a new plague would come in. I counted 20 flies in the cabin before bed time – and I probably missed some.

Two days later there was a violent electric storm, 37 knot winds and driving rain. The heat had gone and it was cold but at least it got rid of the flies. We continued up the canal, stopping at another beautiful village but the only shop was closed and that night we had to resort to warming up a tin of cassoulet and boiling a few potatoes – but with the charcoal burning stove heating the cabin we were warm and dry despite the howling wind and driving rain.

We managed five more miles the next day, arriving at St Domineuc – Which could be described as a one horse town – except, there is an excellent canal-side restaurant offering three course meals for 11E. It was while we were holed up in a canal-side bar that we came across Spike Heatley, an 82 year old professional bass player who had played with just about every jazz musician of the twentieth century. The drinks flowed and wild stories were told. He gave me a signed copy of his latest CD – if you like jazz you’ll love it.

The following day was devoted to ‘make, do and mend’. I was particularly concerned about the boat engine which seemed to run OK but had stopped pumping cooling water. I couldn’t fix it and didn’t want to ruin it by overheating – so a good friend drove out to collect us and the engine so we could take it to a mechanic.

The guy had it fixed the following day and so we returned to the boat with a plan to cruise home. The IPhone told us the trip would take 30 minutes by car. On a weed choked canal however, the return trip took four days – with Susan (the crew) leaning over the bow parting weeds as we crawled along – three metres forward, then one in reverse to allow the accumulated weed to fall from the keels – average speed – probably 2 knots. At one point I considered changing the boat name to – the ‘Africa Queen’.

The situation improved though as we spotted a familiar boat coming towards us – an English narrowboat, bought and restored last year by good friends Dave and Natalie. The encounter led to a bank-side picnic – prawns, pate and good rustic bread washed down with local cidre and white wine.

Two days before home the weather improved, the sun shone and we cleared the canal. Once again we were back onto the weed-free river. Our last night was spent in Dinan where the port facilities are outstanding and the quay side restaurants are excellent. There was a three course dinner of shellfish followed by Moules a la crème and dessert for 25E. The following morning we even found a restaurant offering a ‘full English breakfast’.

The last day, there was bright sunshine and, after all that rain, the air was clear and polished. There were kingfishers on the river and the boat seemed to be moving as she should with the gentlest of push from the engine. We cleared through the lock into the estuary at the top of a spring tide and worked our way back through blue salt water back to our home port, a short country walk from home.

The boat is dirty and full of gear that we need to take off her. She’s taken a couple of scratches too,and we need to put the mast back on her but the experience was well worth while. As time passes, the memory of the trip takes on a new perspective. The highlights become more significance than the downsides.

The trip needed to be made. You can think a lot about renovating a boat. You can make all sorts of plans but until you’ve actually lived on one, used the systems and tested your assumptions, you can’t be sure of what you are doing. This trip confirmed my some of my ideas and made me re-think others – more about that later.


Monday, 10 August 2015

Renovating the Boat Galley

There comes a point when frustration takes over and it changes your motivation. It doesn’t increase or diminish it but it makes you re-order your priorities. It is almost the end of July and to date I can count the number of sailing trips on the fingers of one hand. Why is that? Because last year was all about the exterior of the boat – this year the focus turned to the cabin and a perfect day for sailing is also a perfect day for sanding varnishing and painting – you can’t do both.

To some extent I have been my own worst enemy. Let’s face it the cabin was fine – so long as you kept your eyes closed – maybe I should have done more of that. Instead, I have sanded off all the old varnish from the woodwork and removed every bit of flaking paint – and then every surface has had at least five coats of paint or varnish – a bit over the top really. Only a few bits left to do and then I have a blank canvass to work with. A space I can use to create a real ‘boaty’ feel - wooden bulkheads, shelves, a decent cooking area and a sink large enough to put a plate in.

The most recent bit of work has been to renovate the galley area. Most of the surfaces there are covered in tired Formica of a particularly bland design. My initial reaction was to remove it – all of it – but then, what to replace it with? The galley area gets hard use and what other material would do the job? My next reaction was to apply new Formica over the old. For a while I wondered whether the product still existed so I was pleasantly surprised to find the company’s website and even happier when I saw the range of colours and patterns available. 

My problem however, turned out to be finding a local supplier willing to sell me a relatively small amount.  I found I could purchase similar materials in small quantities but they came in the form of kitchen work surfaces, so thick they would have reduced the galley space to an unacceptable size. There are sticky plastic products that can be stuck over old Formica like a film but, I wasn’t sure that they would be hard-wearing enough and anyway, I doubted my ability to get them on without creases. wrinkles or bubbles. So, in the end I settled on paint – two coats of marine quality undercoat (that I already had) and three coats of high-gloss yacht paint. I’m pleased with the results so far.

In the last few years two new words entered the UK vocabulary. Who knows, they might already be
in the latest editions of the Oxford English Dictionary. The first word – ‘staycation’ – a term which came out of the 2007 economic recession – meaning a vacation taken within the UK rather than an expensive trip to sunnier and warmer locations. The other term – ‘glamping’ – meaning glamorous camping – this is what many staycationers aimed for.

Well out of these two movements came a plethora of ideas for being warm, comfortable and happy on low budget, stay-at-home holidays. In fact a whole style movement seems to have been born. People are purchasing old 1950’s and 1960’s caravans and refurbishing them in a bright retro colours, suddenly these vintage years are back in vogue – and so, I guess, my old boat could be a contender for a retro style award. Well, that at least is my explanation for the colour chosen for my refurbished galley area – a tip of the hat to retro style in an old boat of the period. Who knows, maybe I could invent a new term for frugal sailing – Glamailing? Glamachting? Glamoating?


Friday, 26 June 2015

Paint for Boat Cabin Interiors

A great deal of the work required to bring a GRP boat back to life is pretty mindless. Lots of sanding polishing and painting – and it takes a long time. But let’s put a positive spin on this – it gives you time to think, and one thing I have learned is that there is always more than one solution to the next problem. How to fit a bulkhead? How to get the best paint effect? Whether to use oil or vanish on the woodwork? How to renovate old Formica surfaces? Another thing I have learned is that the first solution is rarely the best. So time provides room for thought.

Throughout the renovation project I have given a great deal of thought to the cabin interior and I have
come up with lots of ideas – most of which I have had to reject on the basis of cost or feasibility. This boat is an early example of a westerly and also an early example of GRP. The building process in those days (1968-9) was to make a mould and pour Gel-coat into it. Once the Gel was pretty much set, the boat-builders would then lay layer after layer of GRP mat over it, soaking each layer in resin. In some places, more mat was added to provide strength and rigidity. The outcome was a boat with a beautiful mirror-like exterior and a pretty rough, industrial looking, interior. The ugly straw coloured interior would often receive a coat of gloss white paint to finish her off.

Well maybe taste was different in those days, maybe purchasers found the treatment attractive. To my 21 century eyes however, the interior of the Westerly Nomad cabin is less attractive than the inside of a gent’s toilet on a bus station.

First question has to be why do I find this so unattractive? Second question – what can I do about it? Well, let’s face it – various layers of chopped glass fibre mat laid unevenly can never be attractive. The whole surface is lumpy. In some places where additional mat has been added, you can actually see the fibre – glued to the surface like a bandage. When you add gloss paint the surface sparkles randomly. It is as if the light accentuates the unevenness of the finish.

Later Westerly’s had foam backed vinyl head-linings attached to marine ply templates screwed to the cabin roof but they too had their problems. Over time, the foam deteriorated to a fine black dust and the glue failed leaving many owners with a problem that be came known as ‘Westerly droop’. Sagging vinyl isn’t attractive and today the cost of replacement foam backed vinyl is exorbitant. I didn’t want to spend the money – and anyway, I’m not prepared to invest in a solution that seems not to work.

Looking at brochures for expensive modern yachts, I was attracted to an idea of using  regularly spaced wooden lats along the cabin roof to give an impression of  a wooden yacht. The lats maybe four inches (10cms) wide and about a quarter-inch (6cms)  thick  run the length of the roof and between each one there is maybe a three or four inch gap. They seem to accentuate the length of the cabin and they provide a handcrafted kind of warmth to an otherwise industrial cold GRP surface. At the time of writing, this is what I am aiming for but before that I need to improve the background GRP somehow.

Having sanded all the interior wood and GRP I decided to paint the GRP surfaces but unlike the original builder I decided to try for a mat finish in the hope that the flattened paint would draw less attention than the high gloss used before.

I have read on the internet about paint used on the interior of boat cabins. Some writers declare that a standard home interior paint is all that is required. Others suggest that the climate in a boat cabin is more extreme and suggest that a kitchen or bathroom paint is more appropriate. Some have also reported good results using exterior masonry paint. I guess most of these writers were basing their choice on cost. Obviously home products are cheaper than those specifically designed for the marine environment. One thing they seem to have overlooked however, is that the actual amount of paint required is quite small. Paint for house walls tends to come in large containers. It may be cheap, but the cost is high if you have to purchase a much larger tin than you need – especially if you don’t have another use for it. I did the sums, a small tin of marine quality paint would be all I needed, and the cost was little more than a large tin of inferior house paint.

I chose International Paints ‘Toplac’ a one pot paint I have become familiar with. It is high gloss, but fortunately International also produce a ‘matting agent.’, add it to the paint and you have a flat mat finish – perfect!

So the white bits inside the cabin have been treated to degreasing, sanding, two coats of undercoat and a Matted Toplac finish.

If you are thinking about a similar treatment however, please note. Toplac without matting agent is high gloss, Toplac with 25% matting agent produces a ‘satin finish’, and Toplac mixed 50%/50% with matting agent gives you an ‘eggshell finish’. If you really want matt (as I did) you have to work with a mixture of 25% paint to 75% matting agent. Be aware therefore, that these matt topcoats contain very little pigment, you’ll need to build up several coats to get the depth of colour, and even then, the final result will be highly depended on the thickness of undercoat you were able to create beforehand.

So, the cabin now has four coats of paint on painted surfaces and five coats of Woodskin on the wooden areas. It has been a lot of work just to achieve a blank canvass, but worth it …………. I think.


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Westerly Nomad Wins a Prize

So the slab-reefing fittings are now on the boom but the lines haven’t yet been set up and the sails are still in the attic. The main cabin has four coats of paint on the walls and roof and five coats of Wood-skin on the woodwork so things are steadily getting better. If the sails were on she’d be good for day-sailing at least so I guess this is the next job. In the meantime though, I have made a small but unusual voyage.

There is a guy in the village who organises a kind of informal regatta each year. Saturday was the
chosen day this year and the event started at 10:00 am with boats assembling by the quay. Each boat had to be suitably dressed and all participants had to be in fancy dress. There were four cardinals in a RIB, the entire cast of a TinTin cartoon in an old gaff rigger, Spanish flamenco dancers on a thirty-five foot ketch, the Blues Brothers on a seven metre Jouette – there were mad monks, naughty nuns, doctors and nurses and – a condom!

Our boat? Well, we were the only British contingent and the event coincided with the Queen’s official birthday, so we were the Sex Pistols – complete with Bose Boom Box playing God Save the Queen – the punk version naturally.

There was a picnic on the water some way down the estuary and then a perfect return with wind and current in everyone’s favour. Back in the Port there were apperros’ in the local bar La Gargot, followed by prize-giving – we won a cup but I have no idea why, or what we had done to deserve it – people were a bit vague by this time.

Then there was a party in a huge tent made of sails, set up around a swimming pool where the water had been heated to 28 degrees C., and Curry was served by an Indian Rajah. I left, just after midnight full of curry, wine and bonhomie. I’m told the party finished around four in the morning.