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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.

 

 

 

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Patrick tries the long-arm scraper with steel blade.

If you own a boat for long enough you may be faced with one of the most daunting challenges a DIY boat owner can have… stripping old, cracked and peeling antifouling back to a bare hull.

My time was up this spring. I knew it was coming and after Karen and I purchased a C&C 30 last fall we realised this job was looming on the horizon. During the pre-purchase haul-out and survey it was clear that the task was imminent. She’s a fine, strong boat and the price was right so we decided to bite the bullet and get on with it.

I spent some time researching “how to,” and of course there are plenty of opinions and advice on various forums. But it’s difficult to separate the opinions from the raw “truth.”

Big factors will be time and money. You will probably have one or the other and if you have both then count yourself as being very, very lucky but even then care is needed. Avoiding charlatans, gimmicks and rash promises can be tricky. And even with all the money in the world you may be unable to nail down a reliable shipwright or out-of-work yacht bum to do the grunt work – especially in the spring when they are in peak demand. If you are flush with cash then this is probably not for you anyway as you probably have a spanking new boat that won’t need serious bottom work for many years to come.

Skye Five spent the winter in Captain’s Cove Marina in Ladner, BC. The Marina allows owners to freely work on their own boats. Skye Five was hauled on the 15th March and I decided to rent the yard’s pressure washer to clean the weed off. Lucky I did, as I discovered that if I held the nozzle close enough, not only did the weed and barnacles come off but large slabs of old antifouling too. With the yard’s approval, I continued for 3 hours with only a five-minute break to put more gas in the machine. My shoulders and arms were killing me after grappling with the writhing hose but at the end of it I figured I had removed 60 – 70% of the horrid stuff without getting much on myself. I had clogged the drains but I felt victorious. The yard manager was pretty amazed too.

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Pressure washing removed a lot of loose antifouling.

The euphoria was short lived, however, as I began to tackle the remaining 30 – 40% the following day. I had help. Karen’s son Patrick used a day off work. Little did he know what he might be getting in to. Between the two of us we spent an exhausting 16 hours attacking the bottom, armed to the teeth with various scrapers. These fell into two camps. The very long handled variety with steel blades – very effective but the blades required sharpening every 10 minutes. The other, somewhat shorter scraper came with a reversible tungsten carbide blade. I used two carbide blades for the whole project, eventually abandoning the steel scrapers.

Twenty-five hours of back breaking, shoulder burning work was needed to get the hull ready for final sanding. I’m nudging 60 and starting to feel it. Young studs may not be so challenged. It’s filthy, hot work. You need all the protective gear – goggles, dust masks, safety glasses, hazmat suit (well, painter’s coveralls). It then took 10 hours of sanding to prepare for paint. Eighty grit worked the best. The dust was extraordinarily obnoxious and had a tendency to find its way into everything. You have to “decontaminate” at the end of each session to avoid the worst. Once kitted up I would work non-stop for 3-4 hours because I just didn’t want to go through the rigmarole of getting the gear on and off.

Fortunately, the weather was unbelievably benevolent for Vancouver and I had five days of sunshine and temperatures in the low teens – perfect!

So, after 37 hours of probably the most grueling work I have ever done, I stepped back to admire a job well done.

Was it worth it? Are there better or cheaper alternatives? Well I did look into using paint stripper. There are some soy based products out there but none I could find in Vancouver. I could have brought some in from the USA but I had left it too late.

As for materials, the cost of 40 sanding discs and 3 scrapers hardly touched $100. Paint stripper would have been way more expensive and I still would have needed to sand the hull.

The yard also warned not to use soy based stripper if the temperature was below 20C. They had seen expensive failures last year using a soy based system – the weather was too cold and a second application, applied by a contractor at extra cost was needed. I was told that if conditions are right it works well.

Web searches showed some pretty mixed reviews on all types of paint stripper. There are blasting options but these are not generally DIY and therefore expensive.

I could have just sanded, preferably vacuum sanding, but I’m not sure that would have been any faster. You also need to apply a lot of pressure for rapid removal and believe me, that is not easy when working above your head, sometimes crouched, sometimes kneeling and sometimes sitting. Given the pain it was definitely a case of “mind over matter.” At the end of it I gave myself a pat on my very sore back as I had endured way more discomfort than I ever knew was possible.

The other really, really big consideration is the impact of the dust created using scraping and sanding. The yard, quite rightly, insisted that I tarp the hull off to contain the dust. A roll of construction plastic and some Tuc tape worked very well and I did manage to remove the tape without leaving a lot of goo on the boat. There was very little wind which helped keep the dust in one place. The last thing the yard wanted was a fine red film on freshly detailed boats. I think I met their requirements – at least there were no complaints.

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Almost done! The tent contains the nasty red stuff.

Well, it took 37 hours of scraping and sanding. If I hadn’t struck it lucky with the pressure washer it would have taken considerably longer. It’s probably the cheapest way to do the job by far – if you are providing your own labour. Also be realistic about the length of time it’s going to require. Yard space is not cheap. Keep in mind that if you start out scraping you can switch to another method if it doesn’t work for you.

It’s just starting to rain so the new antifouling will have to wait. Right now I’m heading off for a well-earned beer.

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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.

 

The author's freshly finished kayak on Swan Lake, Vernon, BC.

The author’s freshly finished kayak on Swan Lake, Vernon, BC.

After some 400 hours of pleasurable work, I launched my kayak on August 3rd. I’m very happy to report that my new boat meets all of my expectations. She is fast and capable and when I get back to the ocean I’m sure she will also pack a good expedition load.

Rainbird, the 33’ wooden Bill Garden sloop which had been in my life for 5 years was sold at the end of June. As my home is in the BC Okanagan, keeping a boat on Vancouver Island was becoming a strain. Getting there involved a 550km road trip and an expensive 2 hour ferry ride – typically 11 hours door to dock. I was also spending way more time on maintenance than sailing. Besides, Rainbird was as much Jilly’s boat as mine and after she passed away in 2012 my whole world changed.

I certainly haven’t lost my love for sailing and wooden sailboats, but it’s time to try something different, especially as the cost of keeping a boat on BC’s coast makes it tough for budget conscious sailors.

I will continue posting kayak building tips. The process wasn’t difficult but then I have 30 years of building experience to draw on. Hopefully I can help new builders save themselves a little time and money.

Finally I would like to thank Vaclav Stejskal of One Ocean Designs for his beautiful Storm LT design and excellent plans and manuals. Armed with these you can’t go wrong and my comments are only intended to show other slightly different ways of achieving the same ends with the tools, materials and experience you have at hand.

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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.

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.

Reflections of a Live Aboard

By David Skelhon

I have just spent over a year living aboard Rainbird and 20 years ago lived aboard a boat in the UK where I was born and raised. The boats are radically different and these two experiences have little in common, except perhaps, both were aboard wooden boats and both required the simplicity that living with less entails. The world has changed immensely in that time, and undoubtedly I have too, but it is fun to look back and compare the two experiences and see what can be learned.

My first “big” boat, a James Wharram, Tiki 26 catamaran, is not the sort of vessel that comes to mind as a “live aboard.” The Tiki 26 is an very sea worthy, moderately fast, open-deck trailer-sailor with many ocean crossings to its credit. In fact, Rory McDougall’s Tiki 21, Cooking Fat, (essentially a small 26) circumnavigated in the ‘90s and is the smallest catamaran to ever to do so. The 21, seems tiny in comparison with the 26 and I can’t help but admire McDougall’s push-the-limits minimalist approach. But even with the relatively spacious hulls of the Tiki 26, supplemented in my case with a heavy duty PVC deck-tent, living aboard Suilven II was more akin to camping than what the average West Coast sailor would consider as “civilized” comfort. Thankfully an old 13 foot travel trailer (“caravan” in Brit speak) parked in a nearby boat yard served as an office and galley whilst living aboard. Oh yes, I should add that I was younger and fitter back then!

The Tiki 26 was built in the attic of an old barn, in the middle of rural Oxfordshire, which is just about as far from the ocean you can get in the UK. It was the mid ‘80s and with the help of my partner at that time, we decided that the epoxy/glass/plywood Tiki – a relatively new and innovative design, with its distinctive soft wing-sail – would give us the “best bang for our buck.” Actually, we had never considered living aboard such a small boat except for short trips or expeditions, but economics soon dictated otherwise!

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A GRP Tiki 26 (right) and Suilven II, our epoxy/glass/ply Tiki 26, sailing in the Tamar Estuary near Plymouth, UK, in the late ’80s.

Once finished, we moved the boat and ourselves to the rural backwater of Foss Quay, Millbrook, in south east Cornwall which put us among multihull designers, builders and sailors. I found work building and repairing plywood multihulls and writing technical articles for sailing magazines such as Practical Boat Owner. With no expensive rent or mortgage to pay we had the time and funds to go sailing – culminating in a 3 month trip around the west coast of Britain, which had been the inspiration for building the Tiki 26 in the first place.

Without doubt, this was probably the most formative and exciting period of my life. I had left a science and engineering career and sold my house to follow a dream. In Cornwall I was rubbing shoulders with the likes of James Wharram, Richard and Lillian Woods, Pat Patterson and Darren Newton – all well known icons of multihull design and accomplished sailors. I also met some extraordinary young sailors (including Rory McDougall) who embarked on some remarkable voyages.

At this time I also had the privilege of editing Sea People/Sailorman the journal of the Polynesian Catamaran Association, and this, I must say, was one of the most enjoyable jobs I have ever undertaken. I received some incredibly exciting and inspiring stories from around the world which would turn up in dog-eared, salt stained envelopes with exotic looking postage stamps. These would almost certainly be hand written, full of jaw dropping tales of coral atolls, typhoons and ocean crossings in amateur built, plywood Wharram catamarans. This 30 page bi-annual magazine was put together using one of the first laptop computers (space was at a real premium!) running desk-top publishing software – we are talking late ‘80s here! Seventy-five back editions are currently available on line.

The Wharram community was truly amazing, and we spent many vacations cruising in company with other catamarans. The 26 drew less than 2 feet fully loaded and was just as happy sitting on a beach or at anchor. The deck space, stability and sense of security were fantastic and the elegant simplicity of the design made it a supremely practical sailing vessel. After all, Wharrams have their roots in boats that colonized the vast expanse of the Pacific.

Undoubtedly, the most memorable aspect of the seven years I spent in Cornwall was the amazing souls I met, the sincere friendships that were formed, and the strong sense of community. We were all operating on shoe-strings but help was always close at hand. If you needed help launching a boat or stepping a mast you would put the word out, stick the kettle on and folks would turn up. This was how we got things done – though big jobs like turning over a hull might just cost you a case of beer!

This ethos was always present when cruising. During my 3 month western Britain voyage, people were always willing to help in whatever way they could. Harbour masters always seemed interested in my exploits and often waived fees. Local sailors came for rides and were wonderfully generous, feeding me in their homes and taking me on local sight-seeing trips.

At the time, I lived and breathed sailing and could not imagine myself doing anything else; multihulls were my world and I could not imagine myself in a monohull.

***

I moved to British Columbia in 1996. After a frustrating few years up-to-my-arm-pits in glass-fibre dust, building “mega” yachts, I changed course completely and became a commercial pilot, flying instructor, aerial photographer, aircraft builder and test pilot and bush pilot. This was exciting and challenging but financially insecure and by the time the recession started to bite, making a living was becoming as precarious as it was dangerous. A change was needed.

I had never lost the urge to go back to sea and at one point in the late ‘90s I did put down a deposit on a part-finished, 37’ steel monohull. The hull and deck were built and the engine installed. At $4,000 it was a steal but this boat was built to break ice and just about as heavy as they come. When I looked at the spars and equipment needed to complete it I realized I would need my own boatyard and crane to do it. I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger and I realized that without a strong, capable crew, I wouldn’t be going far in this boat even if my back held out long enough to complete the fit-out.

Fast forward another 10 years. I just happened to be looking at boats on Kijiji when I came across a Bill Garden 33’ pilot house sloop, cold-molded cedar and built 35 years ago as a live aboard. “Take a look at this – looks like a good deal,” I said to my wife rather innocently.

Rainbird on the ways at the Cowichan Wooden Boat Society for her annual haul out.

A few weeks went by and I started noticing sailing magazines laying around in the kitchen and living room and a sudden interest in sailing coming from my wife. This spurred me on and I started looking at designs with building in mind and one day I announced to her that I was going to send for some study plans for a 30’ cutter I had taken a liking to.

She suddenly looked relieved and terrified at the same time and blurted out that I shouldn’t do that as we already had a boat…

“What do you mean – we already have a boat?”

“Do you remember that cute Bill Garden you found on-line a few weeks ago?”

I had to think hard, but it started to come back. You could have knocked me over with a feather!

When the story finally tumbled out, she had sent the details to one of my Foss Quay friends who had finally thrown down the hook in New Zealand and asked for his opinion, which turned out to be very encouraging. She was going to keep the surprise until Christmas! What a woman!

Of course, my wife, being far more sensible and realistic than me, knew that I found it difficult to find the time to fix a leaking kitchen tap let alone find the time to build a 30’ boat. Besides, the cost of materials and equipment to build a similar boat would be more than she paid for Rainbird.

As far as I can determine, Rainbird’s lines were replicated in the Truant 33 and the Saturna 33, two popular and capable West Coast boats. Rainbird is exactly the live aboard Suilven II wasn’t – she has interior space and it is well laid out and very functional and comfortable. With her tall rig she also sails well and with a 30 HP Perkins diesel she has the power to make headway when the going gets tough.

In fact, Rainbird has proven to be a great choice for West Coast – much better than even a large Wharram would have been for these waters. One hull is easier to heat and keep dry than two. Finding live aboard moorage at a reasonable rate would be darn nearly impossible for a large catamaran in these crowded waters – it was tough enough finding moorage for Rainbird.

Living aboard, even in mid winter, is cozy thanks to a Dickinson Pacific stove (also a delight to cook with when you get the hang of it) and shore-side 110V power. I was working for the Cowichan Wooden Boat Society last winter and my commute was a one minute stroll down the dock. Doesn’t get better than that! No oozing, black, Foss Quay mud to wade through at low tide and in Cowichan Bay I could head down the street for coffee and fresh croissants. All very civilized but the flip side was that with the community lights I never got to see the stars and other than the occasional motion from a south easterly gale I hardly knew I was afloat!

With narrow channels, strong tides and fickle winds, reliable power – and preferably lots of it – is important in these waters. Wharrams generally rely on outboards which don’t always work well in a chop and windage and maneuverability can be challenging in blustery conditions. Some of the bigger Wharrams use twin outboards for this reason.

For live aboard comfort and cruising in the Pacific North West, a monohull like Rainbird is probably going to more comfortable than a Wharram. However, for extended, economical, blue water cruising in warmer climates I would definitely go for the Wharram. The deck space is liberating, and I enjoy being able to anchor in shallow water in busy anchorages, or even run up on a beach. Indeed, I suspect that there is a very good, underlying reason that multihulls evolved in the warm Pacific waters!

Of course, this is just my opinion, and as we know, we sailors can be quite opinionated when it comes to our boats! But an open mind and a sense of adventure are probably more important than the choice of boat when it comes to life afloat. Some people do amazing things with very little.

As for the sailing community, well, I haven’t quite found another “Foss Quay” yet. It is a fond memory but I occasionally have to remind myself we weren’t always happy campers – the sailing community has its infighting just like any other! But now as a member of the Cowichan Wooden Boat Society, I now have access to their workshop and ways and help is close at hand. For those of us sailing on a budget, the Society is a valuable resource. I am also a member of the Center For Wooden Boats in Port Townsend, as I believe it is important to keep the knowledge and skills of wooden boat building alive.

Piggy is a large “Classic” Wharram – a 45′ “Ariki”designed for ocean racing. She was photographed at the Ladysmith Maritime Society this summer. She was launched thirty-nine years ago and has made a circumnavigation. Her owner is currently getting her ready for a second.