Excerpts from my Australian Amateur Boatbuilder column over the last year . . . .
All Tooled Up
We men are hardwired to build things, it’s an inescapable part of our nature - our ancestral DNA – this will to create and it’s a good thing too, this magazine owes its existence to that very compulsion. Women are certainly better at many things in life, and generally nicer too, but when it comes down to building a shelter or a table or a boat, ask a bloke.
I’ve been doing some teaching lately and it’s wonderful to pass on a little part of half a century’s worth of woodworking. And how it changes people! Geoff tells me it’s given him such pleasure to build a simple seat and such confidence in his own ability. That’s because I make him do his homework, of course . . . . . I am well aware though, that sadly there’s an awful lot of knowledge just slipping away – all the minutiae of it, all the little tricks and treats of it – and then there’s the traditional tools of the trade – gradually, almost imperceptibly disappearing. Geoff’s been trying to find a cutting gauge, for instance – pretty much essential for lots of hand crafted joints but there’s none to be found. Marking gauges yes, but the cutting gauge with its tiny triangular blade – well it’s pretty much obsolete. I still use mine occasionally, not much for boatbuilding but I did a lot of furniture last year and all the old tools were back in service. Some of them are family heirlooms and still going strong after a century’s use. You have to pay big money for tools to last a lifetime these days but most were and are simply good, practical, everyday tools that had evolved over the years into the near perfect hand driven machine. My cutting gauge, for its simple efficiency, cannot be bettered, nor can my boxwood spokeshave or my refurbished No 4 plane. Now there’s a thing, possibly one of the most enduring tools in the box, the good old Stanley or Record No 4. When I acquired the plane it needed a bit of TLC so I sent it off to a specialist for some mods – a new laminated Samurai style blade, a new acacia handle, the base machined and a good clean up. The result is wonderful to use and the super sharp blade keeps its edge for ages and boy, does it get a workout.
Older power tools can be worth their weight in gold too. One of my prized possessions is a 1970s Bosch Scintilla drill. Well and truly thrashed in the yard for over forty years and still going strong. Swiss made with roller bearings, it’s never ever been serviced. It’s been dropped, accidentally set on fire, well and truly abused and forced to drill holes in things it was never designed for but, touch wood, it’s still going strong. You can’t say that about today’s Bosch drills, can you? Makitas possibly, I’ve had a fair few Makitas in the shop and yes, they do last well. My Makita belt sander has had an appallingly rough ride and while it’s held together with epoxy and the odd non-standard fastening, it’s still OK. The other day it faltered a bit though – what, breaking down after 315 boats, countless furniture and a new house? Why I only bought it in 1990 – I’ve a good mind to send it right back and demand a refund! Oh, I almost forgot, the boatbuilders’ friend, the compass plane – what a wonderful thing that is, perfect for all those lovely rounded bits that all good boats should have. I still use it for coachroof hatch sections, stern trims, our ‘dashboards’ and in fact it’s been used on every kit and finished boat we ever did. There’s really no substitute for these tools, honed and fine-tuned by generations of artisans and craftsmen – using renewable muscle power rather than coal fired power. It’s up to all of us to continue to use these efficient old instruments and look after them so that future generations can enjoy them as much as we have.
A Plane a Day Keeps the Shrink Away
In the last issue of AAB I enjoyed writing about some of the woodworking tools I use, so I’ll carry on. I got to thinking about my work when Annette asked me recently if I ever felt daunted by it all. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘never! – It’s a joy! I look forward to every day and relish both the challenges and the solutions.’ Part of it is having a good workshop and certainly a good part of it is fine tools. A razor-sharp chisel to pare away a few thou here and there, a thin slice with a beautifully balanced Japanese pull saw, a crisp even shaving from a vintage jointer plane – woodworking is an ancient and fulfilling occupation and I’m privileged indeed.
The jointer is my largest plane and mainly used, as its name implies, for truing up longer stock for accurate jointing, but also just to get a variety of things straight and true. Its extreme length means it only hits the high spots whereas at the other end of the scale, the block plane will follow all the undulations. The shallow angle of the block plane, however, means you can plane end grain satisfactorily and if used diagonally it’s excellent for clearing up irregular and interlocking grains such as European walnut – not that there’s much of that at the local hardware store.
Incidentally, the photo of the new block plane iron clearly shows the machine marks on modern tools. By the time I’ve ground the iron right back beyond the recommended angle and flattened the back on my diamond stone I’ve started to get the thing ready for serious use – Plane on you crazy diamond, you might say if you were a Pink Floyd fan. Speaking of Messrs Floyd, will there ever be anything to rival ‘Dark Side of the Moon?’ Heard some on the radio a while back and I was amazed yet again as to how fresh and exciting it still sounds, even after more than 40 years. Apparently it’s still selling well around the globe as each generation ‘discovers’ its timeless tracks.
More essential workshop equipment . . . . .
1. The Lead Shot
Lead shot is incredibly versatile and we use it for a lot of jobs. It’s the nature of our designs, with their fixed keels, that ballasting cannot be fitted far enough forward in the three quarter keels. To bring the keel forward would upset the boats’ balance, so internal ballast is needed generally under the mast or forwards. Lead-acid batteries are good, of course, but lead shot encapsulated in epoxy is better. The resin/shot mixture spreads the load in the bilges as low as possible and hardens to a solid lump of heavy plastic.
Bagged lead shot is excellent for holding all sorts of materials down while the resin sets. We regularly ‘veneer’ marine ply with 4 or 6mm timber, often over a jig to form curves conducive to the job. The lead inside the bags settles to create a nice, even pressure and if you use epoxy accelerator, they can be removed after an hour or two. Bags of lead shot can also be used anywhere where weight and levers are applied to bend and twist things into shape. Toxic but versatile – don’t forget to use gloves.
2. The ultrasound trolley
Many of our customers are medical people and one of them, a radiologist, had asked me to spend a few hours helping to get the bottom panels on to his boat. While I was there I noticed several hospital trolleys in the workshop – ‘Oh these,’ he said, ‘once the machine is obsolete they sell it off but throw out the trolleys.’ I mentioned that my own wooden trolley – the rolling bench – was well past it – ‘I’ll bring one up,” he replied and so my own ultrasound trolley carries tools, screws, resins, bags of shot, around the yard to wherever they’re needed. The locking castors even hold their own on the sloping entry under the roller door. The trolley is wonderfully versatile – it holds up the ends of spars as they are sprayed, helps me unload heavy slabs of timber unaided and can be moved in an instant.
3. The Glamorous Assistant
No workshop should be without one, quite apart form being a useful source of discarded apparel (see previous blog ‘A Tale of Two Secrets’) the services of a beautiful young woman in your workshop cannot be underestimated. They include:
- Brightening a dull day with a lovely smile
- Sweeping the floor
- Engaging in water fights with your son
- Fetching coffee and snacks
- essential in fact, but contrary to popular belief, few wives ever object to their menfolk engaging an attractive assistant, more often or not they will say something like ‘Look darling, I know you work very hard and I think you deserve someone nice to keep you company and help out in the shed.’
1. David’s Secret
For many years on and off I worked in the building industry – joiner, builder, shop fitter – and on many a job the cry could be heard ‘All architects should be made to build their own xxxxxxxx houses! (Please insert expletive of your choice.) So it should be with boats, and I’m glad to say that I’ve built lots of mine over the years – that way you iron out the faults, fine-tune the process and ramp up the performance – of the boats, that is.
So the request to build a new Secret for David, a Victorian sailor, was greeted with delight – yes delight, for my profession is not simply a job, it is a source of great satisfaction akin to a musician being asked to perform one of his own compositions – and being paid for it – a delight surely, and who could ask for anything else? What’s more, the new Secret is for racing and day sailing with a truncated lowered cabin and lots of little go-faster hull tweaks.
The new Secret was delivered as a kit some years back but the client’s business took off and spoiled any chance of leisurely gentleman boatbuilder activities. He framed her up quite quickly but being a realist, he shipped her back to us for completion.
We finished the framing and stringers, coved, and coated everything and got the sides on in the first week and by week two we had her turned over and ready for the bottom panels and glassing to commence. Turning her over is quick and easy but it requires five blokes, a selection of local and imported beer and exaggerated tales of past exploits afterwards.
Our Secrets have pioneered lots of boatbuilding design systems, including the double chine plus faired strip planking to get a nicely rounded bottom, and the almost undetectable rudder gudgeon system for good water flow, the dovetail keel and, of course, our tried and tested slot-system framing.
Secrets were born of a desire for performance of course, but outright speed was not the sole purpose, for that you need hydrofoils and Formula One technicians. No, Secrets are more a retro take on the racers of a century ago, vintage aesthetics with 21st century attitude, if you like. That they go well is beyond doubt but it’s the whys and wherefores that are of interest. Secret’s deadrise, for instance, the angle of each frame to the keel changes from frame one to ten, flattening as it goes to form a semi-displacement hull. Now there’s a compromise if ever there was one! Semi-displacement hulls are somewhere in between a planing and non-planing hull with the emphasis on all round performance at displacement speeds with the added bonus of adrenaline injection if the wind is strong enough and the crew brave enough. So the flattish aft sections of the Secret will allow her to lift up and fly but it takes more bottle than I have these days. I’ve clocked one at 7.5 knots semi-surfing and Max in the UK has equalled that but double figures will be reached one day. Full main, gennaker, 20+ knots, broad reach – her delivery is in late December so we’ll see.
2. Victoria’s Secret
Having a yard in Main Street means we get a steady trickle of visitors to commission work, buy timber and things, and ask advice. Now in any boatyard you can never have enough rags. Annette does the best – old white cotton sheets and so on, carefully cut into handy resin wipes but my youngest son occasionally brings some up, generally old clothes. Andrew and his partner Christie are a handsome couple – tall, tanned, young, lovely, good natured – much like we all were once, eh?
So last week found me sorting through a big bag of clothes including jeans, tee-shirts, shorts, a little black dress with Aztec detailing, a beaded poly-cotton singlet and something flimsy with ‘Victoria’s Secret’ written on it. In walked a local to enquire about a repair on a caravan. We discussed the job for a while but I couldn’t help noticing he was looking at me in a rather odd way. Now there’s good rags, glad rags, and bad rags, and it was only later that I realised I had sorted the unusable stuff, the girlie bits, into a pile on the bench between us – ready for the tip – and I was wiping my brow with Victoria’s Secret intimates – ‘It was a hot day, Your Honour, I swear!’ My reputation in tatters, I quickly shoved the unmentionables into a plain black garbage bag and sat down with a cup of good strong Dilmah.
After two and a half months, the Secret is ready to go – here she is
We’re often asked about what’s included in our kits so with two Shimmys ordered and ready for shipment, we thought we’d show you.
Not included in the photo are the sails, ropes, chandlery, screws, gloves, hand cleaner etc, but if you look closely you can get the idea of the work that goes into manufacturing our kit sailing boats.
There are several points of interest, firstly the timber is consistently of best quality with close grained clear Douglas Fir for the spars and stringers etc. Both kits are lightweight versions so the masts are hollow, the keels laminated cedar and the stem and stern posts are also cedar as are lots of other parts. The trims are both locally grown Silky Oak and the hatches are laminated in matching timber.
As you can see, the inventories are pretty comprehensive with pretty much everything you need to build a beautiful boat for some serious voyaging.
One boat is for a private owner in northern NSW, the other is the third for a local school, Marymount in Burleigh Heads.
Marymount have a thriving sailing course, part of a very successful sports programme that has produced an Olympic medalist, no less. Bravo Marymount and thanks for the order!
Schools get special treatment, including pre-assembled keel/stem/stern backbones plus part-assembled rudders also a lightweight kit for the price of a standard one and extras such as whisker poles and hatches. There are dozens of our boats used in education and we’re proud to support them as well as we can – these kids learning to sail also learn about teamwork, patience, self confidence and much more. Get the kids out on the water, we say, and a new generation of sailors will become better adults.
Not just any old nav lights but beautifully crafted Art Deco masterpieces in sold bronze or chrome plated.
We think they’re wonderful – see them on the new Siennas!
One of the many benefits to be had from designing and building kits and boats is the satisfaction derived from implementing the many improvements to the range. The latest Stornaway kit shipped out (last week to Melbourne) incorporated a number of simple but effective improvements, chief of which was the lifting tiller fitting which was designed for the Sienna. The stainless steel shaft is simply shortened for the Stornaway and the ‘U’ shaped brackets fit both fibreglass and timber/ply composite rudders. The tiller is raised by simply removing a wing nut and fixed back in place by screwing it back on. Among the many benefits of not having a centreboard case on our remarkably spacious cockpits are the ability to comfortably lounge or dine or doze or even engage in horizontal folk dancing, so we wouldn’t want a long laminated tiller cramping our style, would we?
Yes, it’s been long hours and little rest for the brave boatbuilder and his trusty moll. Sienna EX No 2 was handed over last week after a lovely lunch at St Bernard’s Hotel just up the road, complete with one of Mr Penfold’s excellent bottles of St Henri – our heartfelt thanks to Geoff, her new owner.
Geoff and his son Dan will complete the electrics, upholstery and canvas cuddy, then rig and set sail. They are fortunate to live close to the delightful Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney with ready access to the Pittwater and Brisbane waters – surely one the world’s finest sailing grounds. I expect to see photos of her perfectly set tan sails soon!
While Sienna No 2 is almost identical to No 1, we’ve fine-tuned a few details with a slightly larger cabin area and simplified some details. The tillers are now lift-up and we’ve fitted teak soles and steps to this one. We think she’s lovely.
Trailers have always been hard for us with our boats’ fixed keels but our new Australian made custom designed braked trailer is just right.
We’re now well on the way with No 3 – this one destined for a Fremantle customer.
While we are very impressed with the 2 HP Protruar electric outboard, fitted to the first Sienna EX, we’ve been in contact with the distributors regarding a short shaft version, a more powerful version and the supply of the engine pod and control tiller as separate items. I’ve designed a retractable sail drive unit based on the Protruar which I hope to get manufactured. The idea is simple – the engine pod is bolted to the tracks in a cylindrical shaft which is glassed to the boat. A fitted cover plate is attached to the bottom of the motor so that when it is pulled up the cover seals the hole and smoothes the water flow. We simply can’t have our sailing performance compromised by pesky engines. The unit’s appeal to me and lots of customers is obvious – push down motor, twist grip – boat motors. Pull up motor, boat sails. No more petrol and no more pulling on bits of string. Batteries of lithium, sun-charged by Solbian – perfect.
A couple of visitors to our yard have mentioned that the photos ‘don’t do her justice’ and ‘don’t show how spacious she is.’ Well for the record, the cockpit sole is 2.1 metres by 1 metre, the bunks are 2 metres long and there’s a huge amount of storage space.
Just a soon as we can we’ll get some more photos – bear with us, it’s been all work and no play these last few months. Not that there’s much leisure in the near future – we have a Stornaway kit to get out and another Shimmy likely for Marymount School – their third, no less. But it’s lovely to have the work and I do enjoy it – just don’t expect me to write amusing blogs very often, that’s all.
Heads down then – Derek
Michael Liles of Victoria has sent us a report on his participation in the Tawe Nunnugah Raid 2013 in Tasmania and by all accounts his Stornaway ‘Ysolde’ acquitted herself very well – here’s a few extracts from his report:
"Ysolde" performed beyond expectations. The only other comparable yacht was a Drascombe lugger with a skilled crew of three, which had the edge on us to windward on account of her centreboard, but only just; our tacking angles were quite respectable. In all other conditions, light, moderate and fresh, we usually outpaced her. Thanks to Frank, who paid more attention to sail trim than I would have done! Although he's full of ideas, suggesting every complication from lee boards to inner staysails, which I have no intention of putting into practise!
The Stornaway proved itself to me as a very seaworthy and safe vessel. On the last two days we had to contend with winds of 20 knots with frequent hard and sustained gusts of well over 25, and we never wetted the gunwales. One feature which drew increasing attention as the days went on was the dodger which kept us dry, ours being the only boat having one, while other crews were drenched with spray.
The sail symbol led us to be called "The Flying Thong".
The Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart was tremendously enjoyable. I was particularly interested in the other Stornaway on show, a beautifully fitted out and finished gaff cutter with full cabin. Both Stornaways attracted quite a bit of interest.
Congratulations Ysolde and her crew. Incidentally 25 knots is Force 6 (22-27 knots) according to Admiral Beaufort and his famous scale (1874 Edition) in which you can experience:
‘a strong breeze, large waves 8-13 foot, whitecaps common, lots of spray.’
‘That to which a well conditioned Man O’ War could just carry in chase, full and by Royals and top gallants’
‘Smacks double reef gaff mainsails’
So there you are!
There’s a brand new Sienna taking shape down at Lightwave Yachts – as you can see from the photos, the hull is laid up and all the principal bulkheads in place. The hull is engineered to be significantly lighter than the average, by careful use of hand-laid woven cloth and flexible foam core. She’ll be back up in our yard shortly to continue the fit-out. The new boat is, surprise, surprise, our favourite dark blue – the new owner looked at No 1 and was instantly smitten. I have to say that a dark blue hull with a crisp red boot topping, in our opinion, is very hard to beat. Geoff and his son Dan have specified tanbark sails to complete the picture.
Stornaway owner Michael Liles is about to set sail on a Tasmanian expedition – a Raid no less, called the Tawe Nunnugah 2013.
As one of a fleet of wonderful sailing craft and intrepid crews, they will sail from Cockle Creek, south west of Hobart and wend their way up the spectacularly beautiful coastal waterways, past the Huon Estuary, across the Great Bay, and on up to Hobart. There they’ll finish with a flourish of flogging canvas and a panoply of pennants triumphal. Oddly enough there’s a boat festival on as well so they’ll b a hurrahs aplenty and a hurling of hats as the brave sailors return from the sea.
Bon voyage Michael and may your luffs be tight and your rum raisin free.
Tawe Nunnugah Raid 2013 Recherche Bay to Hobart 30 January to 8 February http://tawe-nunnegah.rforster.org/home
The Australian Wooden Boat Festival 8 to 11 February Hobart http://www.australianwoodenboatfestival.com.au/