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’.