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In Greenland

Iron Bark

Iron Bark
Under full sail


At Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships Regatta

Annie Hill

Annie Hill
Photo credit: Alvah Simon

Blue Water Medal

Blue Water Medal
Blue Water Medal

Books By Annie Hill

  • Brazil and Beyond
  • Voyaging on a Small Income

About Me

06 November, 2020

A video of Fanshi

For those who enjoy such things, David Tyler has published a video of Fanshi on his YouTube channel.  It was taken a couple of mnths ago and, I warn you, is very long, but you can always skip the bits that seem boring!  You can find it here

I wanted to link it to my YouTube channel - one or two comments have asked for a video of the boat in build - but I couldn't find a way.  If anyone knows how to, would you be so kind as to leave the instuctions in a comment, please?

01 November, 2020

Building a topmast and making a yard

 Well, these two jobs have occupied most of October.  Before I really got into them, however, I finished fitting the hoop.

Gluing it in place was a fiddly business.  Ideally, I would have attached it to the frame 50 mm abaft where it ended up, which, indeed, was my initial intention, but it interfered with the wind vane.  I could have made a new windvane.  I decided it was easier to move the hoop further forward.

And here it is in place, awaiting paint.  It's fairly sturdy, as long as no heavy person decides to swing from it.  One can't legislate for every eventuality.

I bought the Oregon for the mast when I started building the boat.  (In NZ, Oregon is used to discriminate the high-quality, imported wood from the locally-grown, Douglas fir.)  It's beautiful wood, very fine grained and straight.  David had suggested I build a hexagonal mast.  In retrospect, I wish I had bought 8 boards: it would have been easier.

When making a birdsmouth mast with six sides, the angles need to be 30° and 60°.  I puzzled over this for some time before deciding the easiest thing would be to cut up some pallet wood and make a mock-up from this.  That would allow me to work out how to do the second cut.


I couldn't get the table saw blade to go down, so in desperation I went to Master Boatbuilder, Noel Barrot, and asked him for some advice.  He very kindly spent the best part of a morning, dismantling the table and splashing oil around with joyous abandon after I had removed the grunge of decades from various orifices.  The blade moved up and down with wonderful ease and precision after this.  I then cut the first angle on the pallet wood and discovered that by turning it on edge, I could then make the second cut of 30°.  It was gratifyingly straightforward.

All the information I needed to work out angles, thickness, strength (a bit of a closed book to me, I have to confess), etc I gleaned from the Duckworks site: Birds Mouth Spars revisited.  This also gave me the dimensions for the tapered top of the spar, which was different from what I had assumed, which saved me from a real blunder. I discovered this site from Gary Pick's excellent article in JRA Magazine no 57.  Gary also very kindly answered several emails from me while I was groping my way forward.

Having cut up the pallet wood, I cut it into 6 pieces and roughly put them together to see how this concept works.  

With my heart in my mouth I prepared myself for the Real Thing.  Fortunately for me, Gordon was passing on his way to Auckland and, yet again, allowed himself to be shanghaied into not only getting the 6 m tube down and onto a bench alongside the shed, but helping me machine the Oregon.  Another reason I was glad that he was there was that the pieces of wood, well over 4 m long, wouldn't fit through the gap in the stairs, when they were on edge.  This meant the removal of one of the stairs, which Marcus had secured with every intention that it should stay in place.  Wielding a hammer to good effect, Gordon not only managed to remove it, but also to replace it once the job was done.  I had paid about $1,000 for this wood, so it was, to say the least, nerve-racking, sending it through the saw.

However, it all went without a hitch and I soon had a stack of nicely-milled timber awaiting the next move.

Here you can clearly see the birdsmouth.  You can also see why the 45° would be easier to work with than the 30° and 60°.  The smaller joint is a bit more fragile than ideal.

Gordon carried on his merry way, and I cleaned up all the grooves.  Noel suggested knocking the back off the part that would adjoin the groove, as well, to ensure a better fit and plenty of glue.

The next stage was to taper the staves.  Ideally, I would have started the taper from 600 mm up, so that the base would have been straight and easy to put into the alloy tube.  However, I didn't see how this could be glued together so with the aid of the invaluable website, worked out what the base should be and marked out a straight taper from top to bottom.  My little battery-powered circular saw did the work.  I cut the 35 mm staves in three stages of increasing depths, but the poor little saw still struggled and it had to have a rest at the halfway point for its battery to be recharged.  As I was still finding the whole business quite stressful, terrified that I would make some irremediable mistake, these enforced breaks were good for me, too.

The next job was to glue up the staves.  I didn't want to do it in one hit, because I wanted to put a wire up for the masthead light and I also wanted to be able to check that (at least half!) the joints had glued together properly.  At first, I planned to do it in two stages and then glue the two halves together, but then I thought that only a little distortion could make this very difficult, so decided to do it in just two stages.

The first 2 pieces could be temporarily clamped while I prepared the third.

Holding the three pieces secure was something of a challenge, and this is one of the cases where an 8-sided mast would have been a lot easier.  Clamps simply wouldn't work and, if anything, tended to distort the shape, however carefully wedged.  I had discovered this as soon as I had tried a dry fit, so in the end decided to use cable ties.  I couldn't exert that much pressure - or I ended up back at the clamp situation.  This is one of the situations where epoxy is superior to most other glues: it doesn't require any clamping pressure to speak of.  Anyway, it all went together fine.

Once the epoxy had set, I tried a 'dry run' to check that everything went together well and it did.  The third piece slid in easily and fitted acceptably.  However, the act of sliding it would tend to remove some glue, so I would have to be generous.

I coated the inside of the three pieces that were to be fitted next.

I also coated the inside of the already-glued mast and laid the wire for the tricolour light along it.  With wire being relatively stiff, you might think it would be easy to slide it in after the event.  However, as I have learnt the hard way, it isn't and with the very real chance of lots of glue drips at the next stage, I reckoned that there would probably be too many snags to make it easy to send a mouse down, too.


Again, I assembled it all with lavish amounts of glue, but as so often happens, in spite of there being a very good fit the first time, when it came to the final job, the 'shutter plank' was a struggle to get right.  Don't ask me why.  In fact the very bottom of the mast ended up a far from perfect hexagon and there were gaps along a couple of the glue joints.  However, there was nothing that could be done about it, so I just secured it all together as well as I could and hoped I'd be able to sort it all out after the event.

Noel, kindly mentoring this whole business, told me that the next task was to turn the six sides into twelve.  Google was no help at all here: the only reference I could find to a six-sided mast was due to the fact that the fellow writing it didn't know a hexagon from an octagon.  With eight sides, you can use Pythagoras to work it all out, with six you have to be a little more empirical.  Tony from the boat next door, lent me a chalk line and I carefully assessed the mast by eye (not at all my strong point) and marked where I should plane to.

Noel had also suggested that at this stage, instead of going for a straight taper, I should go for a spar taper (which I assume is the same thing as the barrel taper, mentioned in Practical Junk Rig)    Supposedly it is more pleasing to the eye, but quite honestly, I can't see the difference.  Still, the Master was helping and the least I could do was follow his advice.

At the early stages, I could use a power plane, but before long I was using a hand plane.  I'm afraid Noel was somewhat unimpressed at my attempts at sharpening my planes (I can't say I am surprised, it is still a skill I have to perfect) and kindly took them off with him to hone to a scary degree of sharpness that I could only envy.

The object of the exercise was pick several points along the mast, work out what diameter they should be and then keep planing, turning and measuring.  The initial part of the shaping was done by taking a long plane from one end of the mast to the other, in one sweep 5 times.  Then I turned it and did the same on the next face and so on.  Then it was all measured and as time went by, I could take more (or less) off each face until the mast became more even.  

I used a hole saw to make patterns and Noel lent me calipers to check further down the mast.

Finally, I had 12 even sides.  Then came the best bit: Noel lent me one of his treasured wooden planes (found in the Falkland Is), which has a radiused base so that it takes off all the corners and produces a curve.  It was a lovely thing to use.

By putting chalk on the inside of my plywood patterns, I could find the high spots and attack them individually until the whole mast was smooth and even.

The last little high bits took the longest to smooth down, but finally I decided that it was good enough.

Of course, I now had a nicely tapered spar, but the base of it was far too big to fit inside the alloy tube.  So the next job was to shape that.

I carefully marked it, measuring from the top of the mast and then roughly planed the lowest part to within coo-ee of the desired 142 mm.  Noel's suggestion was to use a router to take off the bulk of the excess wood and then finish it off with a plane.  Noel is not a man who lightly recommends the use of power tools, and I find using the router freehand a bit daunting.  However, I gave it a go on the principle that if I did make a big gouge where I shouldn't, I would at least be able to fill it again.

I actually found it a bit easier than I had anticipated and the router only ran away with me once.  Much planing followed, both along the mast and, at the top, across the grain, which left a bit of a mess that I cleaned up with my block plane.  I had made another pattern with a 142 mm hole saw, which was invaluable for getting this section shaped.

Finally, the spar was ready to sand.  Noel told me about using a long strip of snanpaper and pulling it back and forth around the masts circumference to remove the excess and again work on any high spots.  It was insanely efficient.  It was also an exceptionally good workout!

With the mast sanded, I could now try it for size.  

To my gratified astonishment, it slid gently into the alloy tube at the first attempt.

I have to say, I did a rather better job with this one than I did on Fantail.  On the other hand, I also had plenty of wood - and Noel!

As I mentioned earlier, some of the joints weren't all they could be.  I had tilted the mast, top down, and run glue down the inside where one joints seemed to be more open than I was comforable with.  Shining a torch down the inside, most of the joints looked OK, but there were still a few places where the glue had blown bubbles, dripped out or generally not done as it should, so I went back and filled them all.  I had been concerned that maybe some of these holes were serious, but they were filled easily, so I think the mast is probably sufficiently well stuck together.  

And as added insurance, I put a 'Band-aid' of glass and epoxy around it.  In fact, the glass and epoxy is to make it nice and hard for the ropes that will pass around it, moving constantly when the boat is under way.

At the very start of this project, my friend, Paul, at All Marine, gave me a roll of fibreglass.  Over the years, several friends have taken advantage of it for covering masts, dinghies, etc and I was hoping that I would still have enough for covering the mast.  When I had finished, here was about 50mm left over.  Thank you, Paul!!

I also put some fillets inside the mast up to the 'partners'.  The Duckworks site reckoned that the walls were thick enough, and equally to the point, so did Noel, but those additional fillets gave me an extra sense of security.

The whole spar was coated again and is now ready for sanding and painting.  

I had always hoped that there would be enough Oregon left over to make my yard.  There is a school of thought that a 'fat oval' is better than the yard suggested in PJR and I debated whether to make one of these (using my newfound skills to produce a barrel taper) or to go for the classic design out of the book.  As it turned out, the wood that I had was only suitable for the latter, but I am actually perfectly happy with going that route.  After all, this is how we made the yards on Badger, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are still going strong.

I roughly shaped the boards before gluing them together and then knocked off the majority of the excess with a power planer.  After the initial glue up, I was a bit concerned that I had made a mistake.  The yard weighed a ton.  I like a bit of weight to bring the sail down, but this was ridiculous!  However, I carried on planing and shaping and in the end was delighted at how light it has turned out to be!  Heavy enough to bring the sail down: light enough to hoist without too much effort.  Just what I wanted.

I finished the job by hand, again surprised at how good a finish one can achieve with hand planes, so that the final sanding takes only a few minutes.  I rather enjoy looking at the 'traditional' yard.  It brings back many happy memories.  I wonder if I will be able to resist the temptation to varnish it!

I swept up and filled a large bin bag with the shavings.  There was another half bag in addition to this.  Very expensive wood shavings!

04 October, 2020

A Painted Lady

In my last post, I mentioned that I had started painting the boat, and this has kept me occupied for much of the time since.  While paint is drying, I have got on with other jobs, large and small.

It was very satisfying to put the wind vane on its pole.  Fanshi is starting to look like a real boat, now!

I attached the blocks for the davits, which was another job ticked off.

The red and the yellow paint have caused a few comments and one or two pursed lips.  You can imagine the reaction when I applied bright pink paint to my boat.  One good friend thought it was 'ghastly' and said so with feeling and variations each time she looked at it.  Happily most people, after blinking once or twice, seem to like it.  I can't say that people disliking my paint job is going to lose me any sleep, but it's nice when people 'get it'.

I love the colours and it's actually very much in the tradition of Chinese junks, to have lots of colour around.  As someone commented on my blog, no-one could accuse me of building another boring white boat.

As you can see: it's extraordinarily difficult to get far enough back to take a decent photo.  I shall have to wait until we are out of the shed to be able to admire her in all her glory.

The colours show off the varnished teak, I think.

While I had the green paint out, I put a couple of coats on the battens.  They needed a bit of sanding and filling, but the Kevlar that David had used didn't want to sand, so I reckoned the paint would harden it up and make the job easier.  In due course I will do a bit of filling and fairing to tidy up the joints.

One of the things I love about Lakatao was the canopy over her cockpit and I have been wanting to copy it.  However, my cockpit is abouy half the length of theirs and it would all end up too cluttered if I put more than one fixed hoop in place.  I want one to keep the mainsail sheet out of the way when I gybe.  Junk sheets are long and if you don't sheet in as you gybe, great bights of rope try to entangle everything in sight.  However, there is no other reason to pull in all that rope, so I am hoping a hoop will keep it out of harm's way.  Normally I just duck and keep hold of the end of the tiller, but with 2 tillers, there seems more potential for snags.  I had thought to make it out of some fibreglass rod that I had been given, but it was both too stiff and too floppy.  It would need a lot of force to make it bend into shape, but would need staying to stop it wobbling back and forth.  I thought of some sort of plastic tubing, but when Noel tut-tutted and said that he'd have laminated it up on the floor of the shed, I was shamed into doing likewise.  I think I had been trying to save time, but probably wasted more in faffing about trying to find suitable tubing.

With the solar panels in place and actually capable of charging even in the diffused light in the shed, I reckoned I might as well buy a battery.  The panels add up to 150 watts and I managed to locate a 130 amp hour battery that would fit (just) in the place intended for it.  That should give me heaps of electricity.  Gordon came along to lend me a hand (and even more importantly, to lift the battery into place) and we soon had everything wired up.  The battery is firmly lashed into place against, sliding, tipping or moving in a knockdown.  It has glass mat and is no maintenance, both of which struck me as a Good Thing.

I bought a solar controller and installed it in the locker under the switch panel.  It seems to be capable of telling me all sorts of things and no doubt in due course I shall sit down with the book of words and work it all out.  In the meantime, it shows me the battery voltage and how much electricty the solar panels are putting out, which is all that I really need.

Meanwhile, I kept on spreading paint.  I decided to put undercoat on for the topsides.  It has a light sheen which makes it easier to see any lumps and bumps and is also quite a lot thicker than the top coat.  I knew some of the glass fibres could still be seen and hoped the undercoat would fill in the weave.  It did so very nicely.  Again I used the Perfection, adding a little black paint to it to tone it down a bit.

I could have, and probably should have, spent a lot more time sanding and filling.  However, to be perfectly honest, life is too short and I am perfectly happy with my nice shiny paint.  The black went on nicely and I tried very hard not to get too many spots where the roller was a little too lightly loaded to leave a good gloss.  I can see where I failed, but was pleased that it didn't happen too often.

I am thrilled to bits with the bow.  I think it looks wonderful!

And this is the absolutely best shot I can take of the overall effect.  I can't wait to be able to stand back and look at the whole boat.

I had carried on picking away at the hoop - sanding, coating and fitting it.  Finally I got it glued into place.

It is surprisingly sturdy, but I do hope nobody is inclined to use it as a hand rail.  I don't think it would be up to that sort of abuse.  It now needs painting and there is some more yellow paint to be applied around the stern.  Once that is done, two coats of clear finish will be applied from king plank to lower rubbing strake and then the paint job will be complete.

And, at the other end of the boat, I have stowed away the rope and chain for the main anchor.