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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.

 

 

 

2cac9d6d5b3309f676fe655baa5b58543ad6525a-thumbBy David Skelhon

Thirty years ago I quit my job in science and engineering. Even in my late 20’s I was tired and disgruntled with the world and my place in it. I wanted to get off the treadmill, and experience the beauty of Planet Earth, or at least my little corner of it.

With my partner at that time, Jill Brown, we looked to the world of sailing for travel and adventure. We sold our home, built a small Polynesian-style catamaran and moved to the ocean. We struggled to make a living in Cornwall, one of the most beautiful counties in the British Isles. I built boats and wrote books and magazine articles. It took a few years but the dream eventually became reality and culminated in an extraordinary voyage around the west coast of Britain in the summer of 1990.

Suilven’s Travels: A Life Changing Celtic Odyssey is my account of this 3 month cruise which was packed with adventure and challenge. Suilven II departed Plymouth in July and headed to the Hebrides, stopping in Scilly, Wales, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. The story brings to life the landscape and culture of western Britain and in particular Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. It also shows what is possible on a minimal budget if the desire to succeed is strong enough. I was alone for most of the outbound trip, giving me plenty of time to reflect on the world and my place in it. Jill Brown was with me on the demanding return trip when we struggled against gales and rough seas and came close to losing our small boat on a couple of occasions.

Looking back nearly 25 years it’s obvious there has been dramatic change in our world – especially in technology. But the human spirit and the search for meaning in life is growing stronger as more of us realize it is becoming impossible to thrive in a system which essentially alienates us from our Earth, and our true selves. Suilven’s Travels was written to inspire others to step outside the box and live closer to the Earth. It is available for $3.99 as an eBook on Amazon, in multiple formats on Smashwords and will be available at many other outlets soon.

Putting on a Personal Flotation Device should be as automatic as fastening a seat belt in a car. Here’s why!

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Do you wear a personal floatation device (PFD) when you are on the water, even when it’s flat calm, or you are just making a short trip from the dock? Maybe you are strong swimmer and don’t see the need? If you are one of the many people who don’t then this true story might make you pause and think, because accidents are, by their very nature, unforeseen and unpredictable.

After several years of living on a sailboat, I must admit I had become quite blasé about water safety. Then one day, about 20 years ago, three of us could have died, and only a bizarre second “accident” prevented a tragedy. Here is the story and some of the lessons learnt.

It was a beautiful, late spring day and I was sailing along the UK’s south-west coast. A light breeze was blowing as I dropped anchor off the sleepy Cornish village of Cawsands. I was about 500 meters from the beach which, at this time of year, was only lightly populated with tourists. The only other boat in the area was a small sailboat, about 15 feet in length and crewed by a man and a child.

I was preoccupied with setting the anchor when I heard a distant splash. It was obviously a little more significant than a fish jumping from the water and it distracted me enough to look up. I was alarmed to see that the little sailboat, about 200 metres distant, now only had one occupant, a small child, who sat perfectly still at the rear of the boat, which was still moving under sail.

When I saw an arm rise from the water, some distance behind the boat, then disappear again below the waves the shocking reality of the situation I was becoming involved in started to sink in. Figuring that it would take too long to pull up the anchor and get underway, I threw my very small, inflatable tender over the side of my boat, grabbed a paddle and headed towards a struggling figure in the water.

As I headed towards him, I noticed that the sailboat, its sails full in the light breeze, was starting to turn out to sea. As it passed nearby I realised that its traumatised occupant was probably only 4 or 5 years old. “Do you know how to steer?” I shouted. No response came – he was frozen with fear and I was concerned that a gust of wind could capsize his boat at any moment. There was no way I could paddle fast enough to catch up with him so I concentrated a reaching the swimmer, who unlike the child, was not wearing a PFD and was clearly in considerable difficulty. At least, I thought, somebody ashore must have seen what happened and initiated a rescue.

After an exhausting few minutes of paddling I pulled alongside the man in the water. He was a big man, very overweight, exhausted and frightened. I could see blood in the water from a gash in his side. His knuckles whitened as his stiff hands gripped the line that ran alongside my little inflatable. I realised that pulling him aboard was going to be impossible, as he was already too weak to assist. A combination of shock and hypothermia in the cold Atlantic waters were taking hold. “OK, I want you to hold on and I’m going to paddle us ashore,”I said realising at the same time I was being very optimistic as wind and tide where conspiring to push us further out to sea. He was too exhausted to answer but made a feeble attempt to pull himself out of the water. I instinctively reached out to help him and tried in vain to heave him aboard, but I became alarmed as the tender started to buckle under the load, leading to a situation that could quite easily end up with both of us in the water.

At this point, a bizarre piece of luck occurred which probably saved lives. In the struggle with the swimmer I had lost track of the sailboat, which thanks to mother nature and some random sail settings, had come around in a wide circle and was now moving at a brisk pace and on collision course with us. The first I knew about it was when my tender was stuck with a dull thud from behind, nearly catapulting me into the water. Somehow in the confusion I managed to grab hold of the sailboat’s rigging and hold on for dear life. It turned out to be our salvation, as I managed to clamber on board, find some rope and put it around the man in the water. It was still impossible to pull him aboard so I set sail for the beach, dragging him and my inflatable alongside us.

As we approached the shore, the young boy sat opposite me, shaking and speechless, tears rolling down his cheeks. Looking towards the village the realisation dawned on me that the frantic running about and launching of boats I had expected to see just wasn’t happening. Life was going on totally oblivious to the drama on the water.

As I later paddled back to my boat, I patted myself on the back for a job well done with one hand, and hit myself over the head with the other for not wearing a PFD myself. Putting on a PFD should be as automatic as fastening a seat belt in a car. Remember, being a great swimmer isn’t any help if you are injured or knocked unconscious during a fall overboard – only a PFD is likely to save you!

There were other lessons to be learnt too.

  • Two or more adults should be available when taking young children onto the water.
  • Have flares or other signalling devices readily at hand and know how to use them. Looking back, if I had taken 30 seconds to fire off a flare or sound the horn before jumping into the tender, I would have alerted people ashore and made a successful outcome more certain.
  •  Understand that if some one falls overboard you may not be able to get them back on board easily. This is where a floating line, lifebuoys, and boarding ladders become important together with a predetermined plan that everyone on board understands.
  •  Briefing your crew about the location and operation of safety devices, as well as man overboard procedures, is an essential responsibility of the skipper. Putting it off because it “might alarm the crew” or set a sombre tone is misguided. Ultimately, remember, it may be the skipper who needs rescuing!
  • Beginner’s Course Ends But Work Continues On The Bolger Designed Goucester Light Dory

  • By David Skelhon
  • Brian (left) and Bob (right) plane the chine logs ready to take the plywood bottom.

After 18 intensive hours we completed the frames and cut, butt-strapped and fitted the hull sides.  The course may have officially ended at this point but that hasn’t stopped Brian and Bob from putting in extra time to get the project completed, and in the process learn some other boat building skills like scarfing plywood for the bottom and using a router to shape the chine logs.

The main challenges came from fairing the frames, stem and stern posts to take the sides. With such a simple dory shape, the concept seems easy enough.  We used a substantial batten sprung across the frames to determine the bevel and then used a combination of planes, draw-knifes and the boat-builders “best friend” – a 5” grinder with a 60 grit disk – to create the bevels.  In practice there’s seemingly endless fitting and trimming otherwise there’s the risk of taking too much off, and we quickly learnt that’s far easier to take stuff off than put it back on!

Part of the learning process is figuring out when a fit is good enough. Sure, we could work towards perfection and although we don’t have serious commercial pressures we still have to keep things moving so that we can clear our limited space for other projects. To borrow a phrase I came across recently, “Perfection is the enemy of The Good.” The “good enough” line between the two will be different for everyone and where you place it ultimately depends on many factors.

We used painter’s tape on all the glue lines to speed clean-up. We used temporary screws, two per frame, to hold the sides in place and these were really important for locating the panels during the gluing. Epoxy with a slow hardener gave us enough time to complete the procedure in a leisurely fashion and would also fill any imperfections caused by over-enthusiastic fairing.

The external chine logs were a little tricky to glue in place because they are bent in 2 directions; we used a combination of clamps and strategically located stainless screws to stop them sliding about. Unfortunately, Gorilla Glue held the screws so well that most of the heads sheared off when trying to remove them, leaving us with permanent fastenings. Next time I would use bronze screws and either pull them out sooner or leave them permanently in place.

Right now, the bottom is about to be glued in place. We plan to sheath it, glue on the gunwales then we will be ready to turn her over. We will let you know how it goes!

The graceful lines of the Bolger designed 15' Gloucester Light Dory (Type V)

By David Skelhon

A rowing dory is a simple, honest boat with enough building challenges for a novice without being over demanding. That’s why we chose the Phil Bolger designed Gloucester Light Dory (Type V) for our beginner’s course as it’s just about as straight forward as it gets.  This model is a “double-ender”, and lacks the traditional dory “tombstone” transom, making construction even easier. Despite its vintage, it’s still a popular boat – no doubt in part due to its reputation for seaworthiness. Just the mention of “Gloucester Light Dory” caused many of our local “salts” eyes to sparkle in recognition.

With five students, we set out to achieve what we could in six, three-hour sessions. Obviously we weren’t going to have a boat on the water at the end of it but with some volunteer input it should be ready for a spring launching.

Victor, our most senior student, has been messing about in boats for years and has built a Bolger dory before.  He is currently building a wee Bolger “”Elegant Punt” as a tender to his sailboat.  The rest of the crew are novices – or at least they were when they started!

I had a couple of weeks head start with the drawings and having built an Iain Oughtred designed Black Fish Dory some 25 years ago as my first boat, I had a good idea how it would go together.

Tobias and Guy started cutting old boards down to size for the strong-back which was a project in itself. It was well done and we shall eventually dismantle it and keep it for the next one.

Bob and Victor started lofting the frames onto a piece of surplus plywood and Brian and I lofted the stem and stern posts. There was a lot of head scratching over the first two sessions; reading drawings is a skill in itself but everyone quickly grasped the principles.  The drawings are beautifully simple and at first sight it appeared improbable that every dimension needed would be there. Of course, from the drawing board of a veteran like Bolger, they were.

One objective was to use Gorilla Glue as much as possible and defer to epoxy whenever we had gaps to fill. Gorilla Glue is very economical to use and because any excess glue that oozes out of the joint rapidly turns to foam, so cleaning up with a chisel or other sharp implement after it has cured is a piece of cake. The boat would be epoxy coated at the end of building to keep it watertight.

We choose 6mm Mahogany marine plywood for the hull sides from our local Windsor Plywood outlet – a very nice 5 ply. To follow the plans and fit plywood seats, 3 sheets are required. We can get the bottom out of one sheet of 9mm ply.

We found enough off-cuts of quarter sawn first-growth Douglas Fir in the basement to make up the frames and purchased a clear 20 ‘ X 4 X 1” Douglas Fir board from Windsor Plywood for the gunwales.

We now have the frames in place and the hull-sides under construction. More details will be posted as the project progresses.

Setting up the stem-post; left to right, Victor, Brian, Bob, Tobias and Guy.