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Wooden Boats

 

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It took about 30 hours of sanding and painting to refinish Rainbird’s hull.

Over the last 30 years I’ve painted several large wooden boats. If you haven’t done it before it can seem a daunting task, but as I will explain here, with some careful planning it can be done successfully with minimal equipment and materials costs. By painting, I mean good technique with roller and brush and not spray painting – a more demanding and costly alternative. You will need to adapt the materials and techniques to whatever you have available in your part of the world.

The best paint systems – in terms of durability – are two part polyurethanes. Unfortunately, for the boat owner operating on a tight budget they are usually out of the question unless you have the well-controlled conditions needed to spray them. Many years ago I did paint a 36’ catamaran with a two-part system, using a roller and brush but it was difficult and stressful and I wasn’t entirely happy with the results. Two of us worked outdoors and by luck, it happened during a wonderful break in the weather but I would not risk it again.

The last boat I painted, Rainbird, a 33 foot Bill Garden sloop, was prepped and painted, single handed, in a week. It was hard, dusty work but my timing, weather wise, was good. I had Rainbird hauled out at Maple Bay on the east side of Vancouver Island, at a yard that allows owners to work on their boats. Historically this time of year is often sunny but not too warm – perfect for hours of sanding and applying paint.

Rainbird had been painted by the previous owners with a single-part Z-Spar yacht enamel approximately ten years earlier. Her red cedar, cold-molded hull was epoxy coated but not sheathed. The teal blue paint had turned very chalky. There were a few cracks in the paint and some minor peeling but the overall the integrity was good. All it needed was sanding and some minor repairs before applying a fresh coat of paint.

The yard kindly lent me some boards and supports to build a scaffold. I hooked up my orbital sander to a vacuum cleaner and set to work. It was hard, dusty work and I was happy that I could use the marina’s showers at the end of each day. I just worked my way around the boat, with two random orbital sanders, one with 80 grit and the other with 120 for finishing. I believe I used around 70 of the Velcro type sanding pads. This is a big boat and yes, if you looked closely at the finished job you might see swirls from the sanders – I didn’t have the time or energy to go for a perfect finish. I just needed a finish that would adhere well and last for another ten years.

Once I had thoroughly sanded the hull I washed it down with fresh water and dried it with clean cloths to remove the last traces of paint dust.

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Some of the essentials.

The late summer mornings were damp so I would wipe away condensation prior to painting. The boat was oriented north/south so I only painted the side out of the sun. I  painted a whole side without stopping to avoid an unsightly overlap.

I had painted Rainbird’s decks and cabin with General Paint’s Weather-it three years earlier and was very happy with the results. It was easy to apply and still looked as good as new. The paint was intended for commercial steel work and as Rainbird’s cold-molded hull was unlikely to move much I felt this paint would be a good match. It was also considerably cheaper than yacht enamel.

I bought some brushing thinners and a quality 3” brush. I would apply the paint with a 4” roller and then “tip off” the freshly laid paint with the brush. I always had a second brush at hand incase the first became contaminated.

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With the sanding complete it’s time to start painting.

Painting a side took about 3 hours. I would apply a vertical panel of paint about 18” wide with the roller and then “tip-off” with the brush. Speed is essential because you need to maintain the wet edge. Having a second pair of hands would have been very useful because one could apply paint with the roller while the other “tips-off”. You will probably need a brushing thinner – the exact amount depends on how fast you are working as well as temperature, humidity and wind.

Luckily the wind (and bugs) held off and the daytime high stayed below 20C. The first coat looked fantastic. I was planning a second coat but the weather broke. Unfortunately, I needed to return home and yard fees together with the prospect of fall weather didn’t make a holding-off for a second coat practical.

I dodged showers while antifouling and doing some mechanical work. Rainbird went back into the water ten days after she was hauled. I was very happy with her new paint job.

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If you enjoy my blog you might like to read about my sailing adventure on the west coast of Britain. “Suilven’s Travels” tells how I sold my home and with my partner Jill Brown, built a 26′ Wharram catamaran which we sailed around the coasts of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. “Suilven’s Travels” is available as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon and the proceeds help support this blog.

 

 

 

I figured this out years ago when finishing Suilven II, a Wharram Tiki 26 catamaran. We needed a good watertight seal on the forward lockers. These were exposed to the occasional dollop of fast moving “green water” so the seal needed to be good.

Commercially manufactured seals weren’t readily available so I decided to improvise using silicon sealant, molded to the gap between the hatch and the deck coaming. The result was a perfect seal. It was so good that a fall in temperature would lower the pressure in the locker and make the hatch hard to open!

When I finished my Storm LT kayak three years ago I decided to use the same technique to form the fore and aft hatch seals, rather than use a soft rubber seal. It has worked very well, keeping water out during practice wet-exits.

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The hatch has been positioned, and the silicon pushed out. Allow a day or two to fully cure.

Here’s how to do it.

Clean up and degrease the flange where the hatch will sit. It’s important that the silicon sealant bonds well to this surface.

  1. Tape of the exterior surfaces where you don’t want extruding silicon to stick.
  2. Liberally coat the underside and edge of the hatch with a release agent. I used Pathway Polymers “Synlube 531 Release Agent” simply because I already had a can. Whatever release agent you use, I strongly recommend a trial with the silicon rubber you intend to use (GE Tub & Tile 100% silicon in my case). A stick up could be very tricky to undo!
  3. Squirt a generous bead of silicon onto the flange.
  4. Carefully place the hatch into the exact position. Push it down to extrude the sealant. You may want to improvise some spacers for exact positioning. It has to right first time!
  5. Allow the silicon to fully cure then pry off the hatch.
  6. Trim the surplus silicon with a sharp utility knife.

You now have a durable silicon rubber seal that exactly matches the shape of the hatch. The fit will be so good that you may need a handle or pull cord to remove it.

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Nylon straps that can be tensioned hold the hatches in place.

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Typical Gulf Island cliff scenery.

I’m fortunate to live close to Kalamalka Lake – a gorgeous marl lake – which takes on a stunning turquoise hue during the summer months. It is 16 km long and surrounded by mountains clad in ponderosa pine. It is located a few kilometers south of the City of Vernon in the BC Okanagan. My girlfriend Karen and I keep our kayaks on a light utility trailer that we hitch to her Jeep for the five-minute trip to the nearest boat launch. Being so close we can paddle often during the summer months. The Okanagan summers are hot and dry with temperatures peaking in the high 30s Celsius so the water is warm and great for practicing wet exits and solo and assisted re-entries.

Despite having this piece of paradise in our back yards, the lure of the open ocean is always there. I have been missing it badly since selling Rainbird in 2014. The West Coast (Vancouver) is a six hour drive away. The coast is normally at least a refreshing 10 Celsius cooler. This summer Karen and I decided we were ready for our first ocean trip and a great opportunity to see how our boats perform when loaded up. Karen has a carbon fiber Necky Eliza – a serious touring kayak designed with women in mind. It measures 15.5’ overall with a 21.5” beam and has a retractable skeg. Last year she made a solo overnight camping trip, paddling 27km down Okanagan Lake in plus 30 Celsius heat, before making a 15km crossing back to Vernon the following morning. I admired her greatly for such a feat of endurance but I’m not a lover of heat and had no desire to repeat it!

We put the kayaks on the roof of her Jeep for the long drive and short ferry ride to the BC Gulf Islands. Our destination was Montague Harbour on Galiano Island. It’s a great launching point for novice ocean paddlers, with plenty of trip options in sheltered water. There are many islands to visit, with relatively short crossings, and although tidal currents can almost reach double digits in places these areas can be avoided or navigated at slack water. The other main hazards come from the big ferries that cross from Vancouver to Vancouver Island and commercial and recreational traffic that can be heavy in the summer months. The islands are blessed with a dry microclimate and don’t get much fog, especially during the summer.

We departed early afternoon on a warm, cloudless July day. This was the first time I had loaded up the Storm LT. I had taken care to pack heavy items as low down and close to the cockpit as possible. This made her feel reassuringly stable. We were planning on 2 or 3 days paddling but Wallace Island, our first destination, has no drinking water so we were carrying several days supply. I had a couple of gallon jugs in my boat and Karen had a 5 litre bladder and some bottles. It was an easy 14km paddle and we averaged 4.5km/hr with a little help from a flood tide. The Gulf Islands are formed from soft sandstones that erode in weird and wonderful ways making for a fascinating trip off Galiano’s cliffs.

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All the gear – and there was a little room to spare!

After a couple of brief stops we reached Wallace Island in the late afternoon. We hauled our kayaks and gear across a rocky bay and into a small, grassy meadow where we set up camp. There were 3 or 4 other tents and several boats moored in nearby Conover Cove. We were soon visited by inquisitive raccoons and deer and I realised we would be wise to use the metal food storage lockers available on the site. The deer munched their way around the campsite during the night, crashing through the trees and in my dreams they morphed into bears, making for an uneasy and restless night! We had planned to venture further north before heading back to Montague Harbour but the forecast wasn’t encouraging, with strong winds expected in the days ahead. The possibility of being marooned on a small island for several days, with winds of more than 15 knots, wasn’t appealing. We lacked the knowledge and experience to be out there in those conditions so we decided to head back.

The return trip was uneventful but hot and by the time we dragged our boats onto the beach in Montague Harbour we were tired and in need of a refreshing shower and a meal. Like most of the campsites in the Gulf Islands, the only facilities are pit toilets and a few taps strictly for drinking water. These islands are very dry and water is in very short supply. So we took the Jeep to Sturdies Bay and made use of the Island’s only public shower located in the launderette and ate out at one of the Island’s few restaurants.

Over dinner, Karen summed up the novel ocean kayaking experience as, “Incredibly satisfying, physically demanding and it put a smile on my face all the time! I just love how peaceful it is.” I couldn’t agree more. Kayaking is a much more intimate experience than sailing but it is physically more demanding not only because of the paddling but all the work of packing and launching and pitching tents and carrying water. It has a beautiful simplicity and one cannot escape this fact when crawling around troublesome diesel engines in dirty bilges or scraping off acres of barnacles under a 30’ hull!

I can only describe the Gulf Islands as sublime. Visitors are rewarded with rich wild life including frequent orca and dolphin sightings, seals, sea lions, otters and, of course, bald eagles. The islands have a great sense of community and operate at a pace dictated by the vagaries of wind, tide and ferry schedules. They are the perfect antidote to the frantic hubbub of Greater Vancouver.

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Karen pauses beneath some fascinating cliff erosion on the east side of Galiano Island.

The wind was not quite as strong as forecast but it did give us an opportunity to get out for day trips. We soon learnt how physically and mentally challenging wind and tide can be. At one point, whilst circumnavigating a small island, we were paddling like crazy, hugging a rugged, inhospitable shoreline against a strong breeze and an adverse current, perhaps making no more than 1.5 km/hr, and knowing that we really couldn’t turn around and be sucked through the tidal overfalls that we had just left behind. Somehow we found the energy to push ahead at this pace for nearly an hour before escaping onto a sandy beach protected by rocks for a well-earned break.

The Storm LT and the Eliza handled the conditions very well but the following day conditions became marginal for us while experiencing 15-20 knot gusts on sheltered water. It became obvious that the Storm’s rudder won out over the Eliza’s skeg. Karen is a strong and experienced paddler but she couldn’t stop the Eliza from lee cocking. This is a very unsafe condition and she is determined to get out on the lake on a windy day to figure out how to tame it. A kayak should have slight tendency to weather cock into a strong wind but this tendency is sensitive to boat trim, deck gear and skeg position.

Overall, I am very happy with the Storm LT. I have invested 400 hours in her construction and I can say it was time well spent!

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Sunset from Montague Harbour, Galiano Island.

 

During a recent visit to the Fowey, Cornwall – the south western peninsular of the UK – I came across this gorgeous cutter. Unfortunately I don’t have any details (no name visible from the dock) and no one was available for comment. Maybe someone out there knows more..? It took my breath away!

Seen in Fowey, UK, May 2015

Seen in Fowey, UK, May 2015

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Also seen entering the harbour – a restored working boat no doubt.

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After searching unsuccessfully for inexpensive deck fittings I decided to make my own. I came up with a very simple and workable solution using stainless-steel, pan-head machine screws and large “fender” washers. The washer on the outer skin traps a loop of ¾” webbing which in turn is threaded with ¼” Dacron deck line.

These two fittings secure the deck line and the hatches.

These two fittings secure the deck line and the hatches.

I used the tip of a soldering iron to melt a hole in the webbing to take a machine screw and also seal the edges of the cut webbing. The stainless washers were scuffed up with 400 grit wet&dry paper, degreased then sprayed with black enamel. I’m very pleased with the overall effect, which goes well with the black carbon-fibre cockpit coaming.

To reduce the possibility of the webbing unraveling under stress I used “Marine Goop” to glue the folded webbing together and also to prevent water penetration down the screw threads.

I used thickened epoxy to fill voids under the washer inside the hull – the hull has some curvature of course and I didn’t want to crush the structure. The screws were secured with Nyloc nuts.

I think the end result looks smart and it has certainly performed well so far.

Deck line termination

Deck line termination

The swept bow and stern creates clamping challenges but splitting the strips over the curved portion with a utility knife is a great help.

The swept bow and stern creates clamping challenges but splitting the strips over the curved portion with a utility knife is a great help.

The hull is progressing well with few problems. I haven’t used the traditional bead and cove method but instead used plain strips and beveled one edge of each strip to achieve a good fit. I used polyurethane glue rather than white glue making final clean up very easy.

You might think that beveling one edge of each strip is difficult and time consuming. In fact it isn’t. Although the angle constantly changes with the form of the hull I found a simple method to get a reasonable fit.

  1. Hold the new strip in place and check the gap along the outer edge of the plank. The bigger the gap the bigger the bevel that needs planing.
  2. Estimate the size of the gap; I used an arbitary scale of zero to three, zero for no gap and three for the big gaps that occur as the planks bend at the soft chines. I marked the numbers on the plank as I worked along it.
  3. Transfer the plank to a vice and start planning the bevel. I did it purely by eye, changing the angle according to the adjacent number and making sure the bevel transitions smoothly along the plank. I found it takes about five minutes to do an eight-foot strip.
  4. Refit and adjust if necessary.

It really is that easy and perfection isn’t necessary as the real strength in the structure will come from the glass cloth. Strips are less fragile and easier to handle this way. I haven’t used bead and cove on this small scale so I can’t comment on overall speed.

These light weight bar-clamps cost just a few bucks and are ideal for holding strips between stations.

These light weight bar-clamps cost just a few bucks and are ideal for holding strips between stations.

My strips were ¼” thick and ¾” wide except those that made a tighter turn at the chines where I used strips a little over ½” wide.

To handle the upswept bow and stern, I cut the strips down the middle, length ways with a utility knife – effectively laminating using narrower strips.

The compound curvature at the stern was challenging but I found that careful use of a heat gun would allow me to set some twist and bend in the strips making the final gluing, clamping and stapling easier.

Staples would secure most strips but I needed clamps at the bow and stern too. I used a maple keel and mahogany sheer strip – great for bracing clamps as red cedar is just too soft for repeated clamping.

Here the clamps are reversed to push against the maple keel.

Here the clamps are reversed to push against the maple keel.

Aligning stations with a simple laser-level is easy.

Aligning stations with a simple laser-level is easy.

A friend introduced me to kayaking last year and quickly got me hooked. I decided to build one over the winter and I will report progress from time-to-time and pass on any useful building tips.

A few trips on local lakes convinced me that I wanted my own kayak and subsequent research revealed that choosing one wasn’t as easy as it first seemed. There are always design compromises and in an ideal world one would have a selection of kayaks and chose according to the whim of the moment or the task in hand. I wanted it all; speed, stability, lightness, durability, seaworthiness and carrying capacity all in the same boat but as with other areas of life, compromises would be needed.

I got off to a false start when I purchased plans for a simple, 16’ stitch and glue design from a well known supplier. I soon realized that I had chosen a design which I would quickly outgrow. Although stable and predictable, it was probably going to be slow, so I set aside the plans and resumed my search, eventually settling on the Storm LT by One Ocean Kayaks. It is narrow (21.5” beam) and has a 16’ 3” L.O.A. with graceful, upswept ends. The Storm LT is actually a smaller version of the designer Vaclav Stejskal’s Cape Ann Storm and should be a good match for my 150 lb weight. For a novice its narrow beam may be a bit of a challenge and I hope that I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. Fortunately, the designer claims good secondary stability which is comforting for someone who loves being on the water not in it.

The plans and manual for this strip-planked boat were beautifully done and there seems to be a plethora of advice available on-line with step-by-step building photographs and tips. There is also a wealth of hydrodynamic data which instills confidence.

So why build when there are plenty of production boats available, some little more expensive than the cost of materials for this strip-planked design? Well, it quickly became clear that a kayak is a boat that you slip-on and wear. It has to be a good fit, in terms of body weight and size, otherwise performance and comfort will suffer. Production boats are available in limited sizes.

In selecting a custom design, I felt that I could get close to the optimum boat for my weight and build. Not only that, I would have the lightest possible boat – important when loading onto a roof-rack or carrying up a beach. Indeed, the Storm LT should weigh less than a carbon-fiber production boat of similar size. Aesthetically, the strip-plank boat also wins hands-down.

I was once helped build a 36’ strip-cedar catamaran. I haven’t used this technique since and wanted to give it another try.

Building the mould was fairly straight forward, except that the plywood spine, built as a box beam, wasn’t perfectly true. I used an inexpensive laser level to check the alignment against convenient datum lines on the stations and made the appropriate adjustments using wedges and other methods of persuasion. The plans suggest using saw horses to support the mold but I opted for a couple of inexpensive metal stands designed for chop-saws or drill presses. These were “ballasted” with heavy items to keep them firmly in position. Now I have a fair mould.

I’m using ¼” red cedar, sawn from clear 16’ boards. I’m not using bead and cove molding but will use a block plane to fit each strip individually. I am using Titebond Polyurethane glue because the squeeze-out turns to foam, making clean-up really easy.

All well and good in theory but I will let you know how it works in practice. Stay tuned!