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You might think leaving a wooden boat without an automatic bilge pump for almost five months is asking for trouble and I will admit I have never been comfortable with the concept. But I have spent a lot of time aboard Rainbird dealing with potential sources of fresh water leaks, which, of course, is deadlier than salt water in a wooden boat. In fact, when I repainted the decks a couple of years ago I re-caulked almost everything.

The previous owner warned me to keep the bilges dry. The builder left a lot of the interior cedar planking untreated – even in the bilges. It’s been like that for 35 years and appears absolutely fine but if water ever accumulated things could change very quickly. Maybe he thought untreated cedar breathes and in the daily heating and cooling cycles, condensation never forms. I lined the hulls of my Tiki 26 catamaran with quarter-inch thick cork tiles for this reason. They gave great insulation and their porous surface never allowed condensation even in bunk areas.

Surprisingly, with just the hatches cracked open for ventilation and no internal heat, Rainbird wintered very well. When I left in the fall I pulled up some of the cabin sole and left drawers and lockers partly open. I think solar heating through her pilot house windows allows a certain amount of air moment and drying. She smelt a tad musty when I arrived in early March but within a few hours that had gone.

An automatic electric bilge pump would be a good safety feature. Although Rainbird has a large manual pump stowed in a locker it could take valuable seconds to get it set up and working.

Before heading offshore I need to figure out a different system, perhaps with the manual pump mounted in the cockpit (but not using the cockpit drains). Being a “belt and braces” type I am also considering a Y valve on the engine’s raw water intake to pump bilge water in an emergency.

No matter how sound she may be right now, a rock, dead-head or some tsunami debris could change that very quickly. And I have been warned; while single-handing through the Gulf Islands a couple of years ago I hit a reef while entering a tight anchorage. Even though I was only doing a couple of knots under power I scared myself enough to have the cabins soles up within 20 seconds from impact! Thankfully not a drop of water where it shouldn’t have been. When I next hauled her out I wasn’t surprised to find a few inches missing from the front of her lead fin-keel and further examination revealed a previous repair. Stuff happens when navigating these rocky shores.

The bottom of Rainbird's keel was damaged when she hit a reef. After grinding the damaged back a previous repair was revealed. I used multiple layers of epoxy and micro-spheres to fill the damaged area then finished the job with a grinder and a coarse file.

The bottom of Rainbird’s keel was damaged when she hit a reef. A previous repair was revealed after grinding the damage back. I used multiple layers of epoxy and micro-spheres to fill the damaged area. Not too much at once as it gets hot and sags. I finished the job with a grinder and a coarse file.

The finished repair, ready for paint.

The finished repair, ready for paint.

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Don’t expect secluded anchorages in Desolation Sound – this is Prideaux Haven in early August.

I had heard that Desolation Sound was “one” of the “Holy Grails” of the cruising world – a must see. Here the salt chuck is warm enough to languish in it for hours without a wetsuit. The summer days are long and balmy and rugged peaks thrust skywards amongst deep channels and cosy anchorages.

After a brief visit this summer I can attest that these facts are true. What is missing from this description of a cruising paradise is the fact that Desolation Sound can hardly be considered desolate when it comes to human visitation.

I’ll admit to being very naïve when I visualised sheltered, secluded anchorages. I hadn’t realised that it is probably one of the busiest yachting playgrounds in the world. The sheer numbers of boats, mainly US registered, and the numbers of very large boats (60′ plus), boggles the mind.

Well, it was August, and a long weekend, but I would guess that the majority of boaters here don’t have to organise their vacations around long weekends.

The sun scorched and the heat and humidity seemed tropical. Thankfully we found relief in the refreshing waters of Melanie Cove by swimming for half an hour while Rainbird was at anchor with a stern line ashore – the standard procedure in these waters to cram as many boats as possible into the tight space.

Power boats outnumbered sailboats by at least 5 to 1 and at one time I saw a raft of 4 substantial power boats being “driven” around the cove in what could have become an insurance assessors nightmare!

Boats came in various shapes and sizes too. A high performance 30 something foot power boat, all engine and very little cabin, anchored beside us. Without a dinghy the stern tie was achieved by backing up carefully to the steep shore and dropping off one of the kids with a rope. Later, dad hung over the stern barbequing supper – where they all slept I have no idea but it was an adventure they will no doubt remember for a long time.

Despite the crowds everyone seemed in good humour, although at times my patience was challenged. Like the time in Refuge Cove where we motored in lazy circles for 45 minutes waiting for dock space that never materialised. We needed some basic supplies and in the end gave up and headed across to Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island. More luck there although I had a last minute fight with a nimble power boat that tried to squeeze in ahead of me just as I was about to step ashore with my lines. Only a quick application of reverse saved the day.

“I have to find a mechanic to fix my boat,” was the excuse provided by the skipper. I very nearly suggested that he should also find himself a fibre-glass technician as he was obviously going to need one if his impatience continued. I pointed to a more than adequate space on the other side of the dock and he zoomed off to take it, leaving me space to take a second run at it.

We got all we needed from the Squirrel Cove Store and by the time our laundry was dry I decided to stay the night on the dock. Good choice, as early the following morning, “Song of Joy”, a very substantial sloop, adeptly squeezed into the space ahead of us. A rather weary skipper explained that it was blowing very hard in the cove during the night and a power boat dragged into them and their anchor rodes became entangled, requiring him to cut his chain to get free.

The power boat was still fouled up and I later saw the skipper flying across the bay in his 30hp centre-console tender to pick up a diver. I don’t know the final outcome but we did spend the following night in the inner cove despite the warning. My wife counted 100 boats before giving up and I saw one raft of 11 boats. That evening, I heard the tannoy of a very large boat, sufficiently loud to alert the whole cove, hail the skipper of a smaller boat in the process of anchoring; “We have 100′ of rode out and when we swing in the night you are the prime target!”

Desolation Sound has become a high-tech playground.

Twenty years ago when I cruised the west coast of Britain in an open-deck Wharram catamaran, I probably saw as many recreational boats in 3 months than I did in a day in Desolation Sound.

The experience has made me question my somewhat romantic notions of cruising. For many, climbing aboard a boat is now like climbing into any recreational vehicle. Engines are fundamentally reliable, the state of the tide can be found on the screen of an iPhone, and with chart plotters and radar, being lost is almost inexcusable. Radar antennas twirl relentlessly and GPS alarms beep and it’s possible to get from Seattle to Juneau without ever donning oil skins or getting a foot wet.

Two or three times daily I rowed our little dinghy ashore so that our Portuguese Water Dog could do what dogs need to do. I only saw two other tenders actually being rowed during the whole two-week trip – the internal combustion engine reigns supreme even when a pair of oars would be perfectly adequate.

In the cold winter months I will ruminate on this experience. In the end I will just probably conclude that the Slocums, Hiscocks and Smeetons of this world are long gone and with them a golden age of cruising. My romantic notions, seeded 25 years ago, are now probably a nonsense.

So do we want to head back up there? The answer is a conditional “yes”. We would do it out of season, when we could drop the hook where seamanship dictated and not where I had to squeeze into a space amongst other boats and would then spend the night worrying where I was swinging. But there is still the lure of the North. The Broughtons beckon – thousands of islands and surely less boats. Failing that, Patagonia perhaps?

Copyright David Skelhon, 2012

Rainbird at anchor in Squirrel Cove, Cortes Island…..just one of more than 100 boats in the cove.

Brian (left) sits back and enjoys his first ride in the newly completed Bolger designed dory while Bob (also one of the course students) rows.

Launch Day Finally Arrives

by David Skelhon

Five months has passed since we first started cutting plywood for the Bolger designed Gloucester Light Dory. As you might recall, much of the initial construction was done by five eager novices on the “Beginning Boat Building Course”. The half-built dory was then purchased by Brian and Carol Elliott back in March and finished by Brian.

I am delighted to report we finally launched her at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre on a fine but breezy spring morning and I managed to take her for a quick sea trial. She rows just as I hoped! She is easily driven, has enough skeg for directional stability, and during the brief workout seemed well mannered. A little “tender” for sure, but she was lightly loaded at the time. Weighed down for an expedition I’ve no doubt she would feel rock solid.

Knowing the Elliotts,  I’m suret they will use her to her full potential and I’ll keep you posted.

A dory of this type looks very simple to build and and the techniques involved transfer readily to bigger, more complex designs. Here are a few general tips and recommendations that new builders should take to heart.

 Measure Twice, Cut Once!

It’s been said many times before but it’s worth repeating again. Measure twice and cut once! Well, actually, if you are cutting a complex, 3D component then you are likely to be doing a lot more cutting and fitting than that. Skill and experience are important and there are few tricks and devices to speed things up, but when you are learning the basics it will be tedious and you will screw up from time to time. This boat may look simple but if you have never before fitted, for instance, a thwart, with its beveled and curved ends, you may find yourself scratching your head! Be patient, find a piece of scrap or cardboard to build a pattern first before you cut into that expensive piece of mahogany!

 Getting to Grips With Glues

If you are new to epoxy, read the instructions carefully before you start. With West System, for example, remember to use one pump of resin to one pump of hardener. The mix may be 5:1 for 105 Resin with 205 or 206 hardener, but the pumps are calibrated to deliver that ratio with one pump of each. 207 hardener, which is recommended when a bright finish is needed, has a 3:1 mix. Make sure you are using the correct pump for that hardener!

This may seem obvious but we did at one point have a sticky mess on the boat which was never, ever going to cure  because one pump of hardener had been added to five pumps of resin!

West System’s technical department had obviously heard this many times before and advised using a scraper to remove as much resin as we could and then washing the remainder off with acetone before applying fresh resin.

Please, please remember that uncured epoxy is toxic. I personally know half-a-dozen builders who have become sensitised to epoxy – so much so that they cannot walk into a building where there is uncured resin without experiencing a severe reaction. It is important to add that these users failed to protect themselves adequately, often working for months or years without basic skin protection.

Remember that there are alternatives to epoxy. We used Gorilla glue on most tight fitting joints and it worked like a charm. It’s so easy to use; there is no mixing and measuring, – just squirt it out of the bottle and spread it. Clean up couldn’t be easier, because excess glue foams and can be shaved off with a chisel or knife. It’s cheap compared with epoxy especially when bought in a large bottle. We used it in scarfs, butt straps, frames and the laminated stem and stern. We didn’t use it on the gunwale or chine logs because it was easy to work with slow curing epoxy when accurately clamping long pieces of lumber onto curved surfaces. We also used green painter’s tape on many epoxied joints, pulling it before the epoxy cured, avoiding a lot of difficult sanding later.

Finally, when protecting epoxy with varnish or paint, make sure the epoxy has had chance to fully cure and that any amine “blush” is removed from the surface (a little dilute ammonia solution does this quite well) and then lightly sand the surface. Failing to remove the waxy amine reaction by-product can result in paint or varnish drying very slowly or not at all.

After a few days of welding and grinding, the new carriage got wet for the first time this afternoon. Much to Lance’s delight, it ran smoothely, without getting hung up. All it needs now are the timbers and the sliding gunwale supports and it’s ready for action.

Ways Operator Lance Underwood (left) explains the next move to (left to right) Len, Hylton, Dave and Malcome while Chris and Erik watch from the pier.

Moving heavy steel H beams and railway track without a crane can be a challenge, but it’s surprisingly easy when you can muster a dozen or so willing bodies. Way’s operator Lance Underwood is in charge of rebuilding the carriage, and organising volunteer work parties to move the heavy stuff is part of his job.

When Underwood isn’t at the Centre he has a busy life as a fisherman and a whale watching boat skipper. He took over the operation of the ways last year from the Centre’s former shipwright Eric Sandilands. Underwood is no stranger to wooden boats, having worked for several years on wooden fish boats in Bristol Bay, Alaska, so he’s learned a few tricks about keeping them afloat.

The new carriage is substantially larger than the old one, allowing it to haul heavier and longer boats and will have several modifications which should make it easier to accommodate fin-keel sailboats.

The ways are a vital part of the Centre’s operations, not only because they provide income and employment, but also because members of the public can watch boats being hauled. They are available to members, who are able to work on their boats under staff supervision, helping to keep the cost of owning a wooden boat down. The ways will be running again in early April.

Once turned over, fitting out begins with the thwarts.

By David Skelhon

Much progress has been made since the last post in the middle of January. We now have something that fully resembles a boat and just requires final fitting out and painting.

The external chine logs where fitted before the 9mm plywood bottom was attatched. These are somewhat unconventional and Bolger wrote in his notes accompanying the drawings, “The external  chine log seems slightly easier to fit than the conventional  type, leaves a cleaner interior, adds a minute amount of stability, which certainly needs anything it can get; I don’t think it increases resistance but I can’t prove it yet.”

The chine logs were given a rounded profile on one edge with a router before fitting.  They were tapered a little at the ends where they meet the bow and stern, then, together with the bottom, given a protective layer of 9 oz. glass cloth and epoxy which wrapped around them, cut at the hull sides.

The exterior hull sides were given 3 coats of epoxy to seal the plywood and give a surface ready for paint.

An oak skeg was shaped and glued to the bottom after glassing and radiused fillets made to beef it up against side-loads. No fastenings were used.

Oak cutwaters were roughly shaped on the table saw. These were somewhat oversized and were held in place with copper boat nails and pieces of rope until the epoxy set. They were trimmed flush with a block plane and a grinder with an 80 grit disk. Sounds simple but in practice the fairing process took longer than I imagined could be possible, with the oak and epoxy being tough to cut. The plans don’t call for these cutwaters but it seemed a good idea to protect the plywood edges in some way.

Brian and I flipped her over just as Shaw Cable TV were at the Centre filming for one of their Western Canada shows. I never got to see it so I don’t know whether we hit the big time!

The surplus ply above the gunwales was trimmed off with a jigsaw and finished flush with a block plane.

Happily, Brian decided to buy the dory and will be taking care of the final fitting out. He and his wife, Carol, are keen kayakers and enjoy fishing too. After hearing how they pull up crab traps and land halibut from their kayaks I’m sure it will be a lot easier from the dory!

When I’ve had the chance to take it for a row I’ll make a final report.

Chine logs and cutwater meet at the bow.

Jan Wylie aboard "Vesta", preparing to depart the Maritime Centre last week.

by David Skelhon

Long-time members of the Maritime Centre may remember “Vesta”, donated to the Centre in 1999 after a long career as a gill netter.

The initial restoration was funded in partnership with Human Resources Canada, as part of a skills training program. She was given new ribs and decks and re-launched in July 2001.Vesta is 32’ long and powered by a 6 cylinder Nissan diesel.  She was used for a time as a “showboat”  by the Maritime Centre, traveling to events along the coast.

Vesta has been owned by local shipwright Jan Wylie for the last 5 years. Wylie said Vesta was built in the ‘50s and used by Jack Jensen and his daughter fishing Porlier Pass between Valdez and Gabriola Islands.

Wylie said she loves the gill netter lines. She considers Vesta a “river boat” and although she has cruised as far north as Princess Luisa Inlet she admits that, after a particularly rough passage, “Thirty-five knots in Georgia Straight was a bit much for a boat of this design!”

Wylie keeps Vesta at Genoa Bay Marina, just across the bay from the Maritime Centre. She has replaced the old steel masts with wooden ones and made an elegant deck awning. She has been busy at the Centre’s workshop this winter making changes to the interior.