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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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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.

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.

Here are several spectacular wooden boats that caught our eyes as we sailed between the Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound this summer.

“Native Girl” was designed and built by West Coast legend Allen Farrell. She is 48′ overall, with a beam of 10′ 6″ and a draft of 5′ 6″. She was launched in 1965. For more information on artist and boat builder Allen Farrell and his wife Sharie go to http://allenfarrell.com/

“Native Girl”, built and designed by Allen Farrell, seen here in Silva Bay. Note the yard-arm for the square sail.

I couldn’t resist including this photograph of Allen’s last boat, which I came across in Pedder Bay in 2009. The story of Allen and Sharie Farrell is fascinating and documented in “Salt on the Wind” by Dan Rubin and “Sailing Back In Time” by Maria Coffey. Both “Native Girl” and “China Cloud” are breath-taking designs!

Wonderfully elegant “China Cloud”.

Normally at home in Thetis Island, “Grail Dancer” made a short visit to the Cowichan Bay Maritime Society in August. This beautiful 61′ (L.O.A.) schooner, is based on the lines of a 19th century Noank Well Smack. For more information – http://sunrisegrail.com/?action=GR-gallery

She was built by Maureen and Wayne Loiselle and was launched off a beach in 2000.

Magnificent “Grail Dancer” at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre.

“Grail Dancer”

“Taihoa” is 48′ (L.O.A.), design by George Band, launched in Vancouver in 1947. She is seen here during a haul-out on the newly refurbished ways at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre.

“Taihoa” – a Colin Archer style, heavy displacement cutter.

Finally, we came across this attractive Aitkin designed cutter in Squitty Cove on Lasqueti Island.

“Josey”, a small Aitkin designed cutter.

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.

Jilly and our Portuguese Water Dog, Maio, aboard Rainbird in Montague Harbour, BC.

by David Skelhon

Three years ago, my wife, Jilly, bought a 33′ Bill Garden designed, pilot house sloop Rainbird. As far as we can determine, she was built in Canoe Cove on Vancouver Island in the late ’70s by Gerry Anderson. She is cold moulded using red cedar, with fir-ply bulkheads, decks and cabin sides. Her interior is highly functional with ample storage – nothing fancy but built with thought and care as a live-aboard vessel. A Dickinson Pacific stove is the cosy centre-piece, making this an ideal boat for the Pacific North West. Gerry Anderson carried out Bill Garden’s vision to perfection.

Having built several wooden boats and repaired and refitted many others, I am struck with the care, perseverance and passion that builders lavish on their projects. Many are undoubtedly works of art. No two will ever be the same – even when from the same stock design – as each will be imbued with the essence of its builder.

Flip open the latest edition of Cruising World (July 2012) and you will find an inspiring article written by Thies Matzen, about 30 years of adventure aboard Wanderer III. As any sailor worth their salt will of course know, this traditional wooden boat belonged to that most famous cruising couple, Eric and Susan Hiscock. The Hiscocks had this 30′ Laurent Giles design built for them and launched in 1952 and subsequently made two leisurely circumnavigations and wrote the classic sailor’s bible, Cruising Under Sail.

Matzen and his partner Kicki Ericson have since sailed their humble boat both to the tropics and the stormy temperate climes, including a two month trip to Antarctica. Matzen sums up his reasoning for living with this small but capable boat for so long: “As a traditional builder of wooden boats, I like to show such craft aren’t just pretty to look at. They are made to sail too. They are not just romantic but astonishingly functional. Something as basic as Wanderer III, after 60 years and 290,000 miles under sail, is still up for anything.”

Like Wanderer III, Rainbird is astonishingly functional, having been lived aboard for 30 years and cruised extensively in the Pacific North West. I often wonder about the original builder. Putting together a boat like this requires extraordinary vision, dedication, skill, perseverance, understanding from loved ones and of course a big chunk of cash. Had he spent years saving and planning? Was he building full time? Was this the first boat he built or indeed the last? Does he ever wonder where she is or how well she is cared for?

Taking on Rainbird is like being being handed a torch kindled by the designer and brought fully into flame by the builder. As current custodians we have to nurture the flame to illuminate our future voyages of awe and adventure.

Rest assured Gerry Anderson, wherever you are, Rainbird is still loved and well looked after. You did a fine job and it’s appreciated. And, like Wanderer III, she is, “still up for anything.”

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.