Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Practical Advice for Boat Renovators

People who renovate old boats are dreamers, romantics and often, escapists. That’s fine – I openly admit to being all three. As a writer they are valuable assets, necessary almost, but when it comes to renovating an old boat their use is strictly limited. Dreams are good motivators. The ‘romance’ of the sea, the escape from the boring, mundane everyday existence, provides the reason for our investment of time and money in such projects.

Beyond that however, these traits become something else, something almost dangerous. They convince us to take up lost causes; they assure us that the investment is worthwhile, that all will come out right in the end, and worst of all, they make us overlook our own inadequacies. We begin to believe that we are capable of achieving the impossible. People like us don’t see rotting derelict hulks, flaking paint and dripping rusty iron – oh no, we see ‘potential’.

There are many waypoints along the road from ‘Dreamland’ to the land of ‘Achievement’ – places with names such as frustration, ignorance, lack of resources, incapability and over-investment. It’s a long road, longer than you think, and dreams don’t last forever. At some point, you have to let reality in. Most of us do this far too late.

So the advice? Open your eyes take a deep breath and ask yourself if you can really do this:

put down that book about blue water voyaging and pick up a practical text on how to rewire 12 volt system;

check out the cost of tools you’ll need – then double it;

estimate the cost of the materials you’ll need – then double it;

consider the amount of time you’ll need – then double it.

By way of example here is my experience of boat renovation. My boat is a Westerly Nomad, 23ft in length, built in 1967. Sanding, cleaning, painting, polishing the GRP exterior, rebuilding the hatches, and installing a new electrical system took eighteen months. I was fortunate in that I didn’t have a day-job or young children to distract me. When I say eighteen months – I’m talking, on average, three days a week. In winter I couldn’t feel my fingers and in spring I was eaten alive by mosquitoes.

I launched at the end of last summer and the cabin was like a slum. This year I have been working on that interior, eating wood and paint dust despite the face-mask. I hope to finish by mid-summer (or I won’t finish at all because it will be too hot to work or paint in there by then) and then – guess what? The exterior wood will need re-varnishing and she’ll need a haul-out for anti-fouling. There is a term for a job that never ends but I can’t remember it and I’m too weary to look it up.

So there is the advice – stop dreaming and start thinking practically now. But you won’t of course. You’re a dreamer, a romantic and an escapist – and without you – these old boats wouldn’t have a chance.


Monday, 18 May 2015

Refitting The Cabin Interior

Been having a debate with myself and still haven’t quite reached a conclusion. Despite the fact I wear a mask, I still get to taste dust when I’m sanding back the old paintwork and the wood in the cabin. The debate? Well, which tastes worse – plywood dust, paint or GRP? At the moment I think the paint.

This job is progressing really slowly, there are a number of reasons – I have lots of other things to do and most of them are marginally more appealing than laying on my back with an electric sander pouring cabin-roof dust over my face. When the weather is good, I don’t want to be in that hot cabin and when the weather is bad I find excuses for doing other things.

And then there was the bomb, two in fact, and that slowed me down somewhat! There is a road bridge not too far from the village where I live. It takes traffic across the estuary at a point where the valley narrows. In 1944, the Americans bombed the bridge to confine the Germans prior to attacking St Malo. A couple of weeks ago a yachtsman fouled his anchor under the new bridge and couldn’t raise it so he enlisted a friend with diving equipment to see if he could go down and free it. He followed the anchor cable to the bed and discovered the anchor was firmly wedged between two 9000lb unexploded American bombs. People on both sides of the estuary were evacuated for two days.

And then, the port authorities decided to dredge the harbour so boats had to be moved and shore-power wasn't available for a while. 

And then, there is Joe’s bar.  Joe sets up a bar from an old caravan by the beach each summer. I can see it from the boat and it sings like a siren – pulls like a magnate. Ten minutes sanding = twenty minutes hanging out at Joe’s, chillin’ and talking boats and blues with the rest of the guys who can’t resist sunshine and ice cold beer either.

So despite the above, I guess I have made some progress. All the old black varnish has been removed and the wood furniture now look new and ready for coating and the gloss paint on the GRP is now mat and keyed ready for painting again. The colour scheme planned for the cabin is not of my choosing. It will be white and blue because the berth cushions are blue and too good to throw away or re-cover. The white bits will be mat however, and the wood will be oiled but not coloured so hopefully the cabin will be lighter and brighter than before.

With luck I’ll be painting next week. Once I've got the dust out of the cabin. I always knew the cordless Dyson would come in handy.