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