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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

22 June, 2020

The Devil is in the Detail

I had been worrying about the rubbing strakes for a long time, knowing that I couldn't follow the good advice of boat building books, to mark them out and then stand back to check that they looked right.  I had lots of good advice offered me from the impossible 'glue them up first and then when you fit them they will make a fair curve', which isn't necessarily so, anyway, to 'use a laser'.  As so often has happened during this project, the best thing to do seemed to be to read around the subject, ponder for many a sleepless night and finally do what I had to do due to the various constraints I work with: such as my magnificent shed occasionally being far too small!!  I will just have to cross my fingers that the port side matches the starboard side and that any bumps and hollows won't be noticeable from a distance.

The other detail that had me a little concerned, being as how I've used up all my Coppercoat, was lining up the trim tabs so that their 'waterline' matched that of the rudders.

The issue here is that the weight of the trim tabs could result in a slight sag after the lashings were tightened and epoxy coated.  I had succeeded with the rudders and, am pleased to say, was equally successful with the trim tabs.

David told me that if I want to have trim tabs, I must be sure that they move very, very easily.  In fact I cannot imagine any other way of securing them that would have been so sensitive.

Because I didn't want the detail at the quarters - and the bows - to look too heavy, I decided to make them only 12mm thick and to taper the rubbing strakes into them.  This meant that each succeeding layer was slightly shorted than its predecessor, but getting the taper too look right to my eyes, took quite a lot of work. particularly at the bow where there is, in fact, a slight reverse curve.

The final outer layer is of teak - left over from the decks.  Teak isn't a particularly hard wood, in truth, but is a delight to work and, besides, I still have quite a lot left.  Saligna apart, I have nearly run out of wood and the budget does not stretch to buying in more!  With some difficulty, I've made the decision not to varnish it, but to paint it as I have intended all along.  In New Zealand, most people put brass half round along the rubbing strake.  However, I don't plan to go alongside that often and I can't help feeling that if I inadvertently come into contact with one of these modern fibreglass boats, most of which have no rubbing strake at all, I will do far less damage to them with just wood.  The brass seems a bit antisocial, in all honesty.

This is the starboard side.  In the same way that it's difficult for me to stand back and see what sort of job I am making of these rubbing strakes, it's also difficult for me to photograph them!  The underside looked more uneven than I was prepared to fill and fair, so I put teak there, too.  I have still spent an unconscionable time on my back scraping and sanding, to the detriment of my poor, abused elbow.

Here is the starboard quarter with all the fairing required to taper in the strake.

I decided that the top of the upper strake should be finished in varnished teak, which would tie the whole thing together.  Besides, it was also easier than trying to work out what colour of paint to put where!

Again, I used my trusty decking, doubled to provide the width.  It would have been nice to have the correct size of timber; on the other hand, there is a huge satisfaction on scheming out ways of using what I have.

I really love my little junk's open bow.  It turned out much better than I had ever hoped, so I decided to show it off with some more teak.  I had about a metre of teak that was 100mm or so wide and I have been saving it for just this job.

I put the wood in place using a heat gun to encourage it to bend, and then left it for several days to get the idea.  This made it a lot less difficult to glue into place, following as it does, curves in two planes.  The yellow masking tape formed a natural 'gutter' as I stuck it into place, which prevented dribbles from landing on the lockers below.

Looking aft to try and get some impression of what it will look like.  It's not exactly an informative photo.  It will be exciting actually to view the boat when she comes out of the shed.  Fingers crossed that the reality matches my imagination!

28 May, 2020

Some shiny paint and rubbing strakes

Covid 19 rumbles on, but this country appears to have got off lightly insofar as illness and deaths are concerned.  The economy, of course, has taken a hit, but then so it has in countries that have done little to curtail the spread of the virus.  We are pretty much 'unlocked' now and lots of Kiwis are taking the chance to go and explore their own country while there's room to move.  Tourism may bring in a lot of income and we enjoy meeting people from overseas, but you can have too much of a good thing.  Sadly, the leadership which was so admirable during the crisis is completely lacking about the future and instead of taking this opportunity to reset the way we do things, to a low-carbon, environmentally-friendly economy, we are back to Business as Usual.  Really, I despair of humanity.

My life has barely changed at all.  I've had some visitors and got to know some of my neighbours in the boatyard a little better; otherwise I just carry on building my boat.  Somehow I seem to have less and less spare time, which is why writing this blog has been delayed yet again.  We have had some wintry weather: I gave my fan heater to Shirley - it was a waste of time here, the heat just went straight through the plastic roof and sides of the shed - so when I go and visit her I can get warm!  It's also getting dark in the mornings and I have a rooted objection to rising by artificial light.  I manage to get up before 7 most mornings, but was a bit late the other day, when pouring rain delayed the onset of daylight!  It's all more incentive to get the boat finished, and as I'm working with numb toes and sore knuckles, I fantasise about being snug in the saloon, reading Roger Taylor or Hilary Mantel, while the logs crackle in the fire.

In the meantime, I cut wood and mix chemicals.

 Before painting I wanted to apply the Coppercoat.  I had forgotten how difficult it is to apply the first coat.  It smears, goes on almost transparently and is altogether anything but satisfactory.  Fortunately the instructions call for four coats and I decided to put on five, just in case.  Mixing, however, couldn't be easier and because I am using fairly small quantities, a whole batch can be dumped in the roller tray, which means that the copper doesn't settle out too much.

 Once coated, they look OK.  I'm sure they would look a lot better it I'd sprayed the finish, but they're fine.

 The top of the bilgeboards still looks nice and shiny simply because I've decided that they really don't need painting.  The graphite/epoxy will protect them and it's easy enough to paint the area that shows in a few years when they start to get scratched and dull.

The rudders on the other hand, are to be painted so I sanded them down before applying the Coppercoat.  These, too, finished up quite acceptable.  Because of the way I took the Coppercoat up to the chines, on the hull, it was a bit difficult to decide just where to put the 'waterline'.  It would have looked silly at the same level as the chine - the copper would have gone half way up the transom, so I decided instead that I would have to live with a rather weird visual effect from side on.  The boat is so quirky that I expect I can get away with it,  If not, I shall bring the black paint down to a more conventional waterline one day.  I think I will probably learn to live with it!!

 After putting epoxy all over the stern of the boat, I then sanded it all off again.  The joys of boatbuilding.  This was during one of our colder spells and I had to leave the rudders and boards for the moment, while the Coppercoat became hard enough that I dared shift them around.

 The next job on the list was the rubbing strakes, or 'beltings' as the Kiwis call them, because, according to Noel, they are designed to get belted.  Hmm.  Visually, this is one of the most important things to get right on the boat.  Everyone will tell you how to do this: mark them out and then step back and check for a fair curve with no bumps and hollows.  No-one tells you how you can do this in a shed where you can't get farther than a metre or so away from the side of the boat.  Add to this the fact that I don't have the sort of 'eye' that can see these things very well and it has to be said that fitting of them is something of a gamble.  If it's wrong, it's wrong and in truth, there will be nothing I can do about it.  It will turn a pretty (to me) boat into a home-built atrocity, but that's life.

 I'd put a lot of thought into what size the rubbing strakes should be.  Too small and they are a waste of time; too large and they will look clumsy.  Fortunately, having made my decision, I discovered that it was the correct one: I didn't have enough timber left for more!  I decided against using the saligna: it's certainly hard, but it's a brute to work and as I didn't want to screw from the inside, which would mean lots of filling and painting, I could only use relatively small screws from the outside, which would necessitate very thin laminates to start with.  I had two lengths of yellow cedar left and milled up a load of douglas fir left over from the tabernacle.  I plan to finish off with teak left over from the decking.  It's not that hard, but it's easy to work and of appropriate thickness.  And it's a lot lighter than saligna.  The photo shows me cutting the large baulk of douglas fir down to a smaller section, before cutting it again in the other dimension.

 And these are the laminates, thus formed.  There are a few knots, but these can be staggered.  The 'beltings' are not structural, after all, and glued throughout their length.  The softwood was very accommodating when I came to fit it.

The biggest problem was supporting 4m lengths of wood while holding them at one end.  A bit of string tied to handy deck cleats or stanchion bases helped with this.  I fitted the first layer and screwed it into place.  I then left it for a few days to get the idea and, sure enough, when I came back, it had taken up the curve.  This made the actual gluing in place a lot more straightforward.

 My original plan had been to run the wood out into a taper at a distance from the bow and stern, as is generally done with Western-style boats.  However, it just didn't look right, so I looked at some illustrations of junks and decided to do as they do, and have a filler piece joining the two sets of strakes.  (Just as they scatter masts with gay abandon and no sense of symmetry, so too do the Chinese add fore and aft timbers which no doubt have a purpose, but which is not always obvious to the Western eye.)

 The forward end had a slightly different shape.  As I mentioned, it's rather hard to stand back and get a proper look.  The photo above was taken by the camera held in my hand as far away as I could from the bow.  I can't get that view!

 They seem to look OK.  Fingers crossed!

 Meanwhile, the Coppercoat had hardened sufficiently to be able to move the rudders and - finally - get the bilgeboards off the big table, so that I could use it again.  Shirley came and gave me a hand with them.

 So I mixed up paint and applied it to the stern, the rudders and the trim tabs.  Because of having to do other jobs and making dust, I could only paint at the end of the day, by which time it was dark.  In spite of the myth of my perfectionism, I am fully of the opinion that life is too short for sanding and fairing a hull.  And too short for going back and reapplying yet another coat of paint if the job isn't up to standard.  A "ten-foot job" is more than good enough and the boat will look fine in the water.  I am not being falsely modest here - the flash from the camera is pretty flattering!

I could now start attaching the rubbing strakes, while trying not to touch the new paint, which took several days to harden off.

 Again, this is the best photo I can manage without hiring a drone.  I used washers just to be absolutely sure the points of the screws didn't penetrate the interior.

 With the paint finally hard enough to allow us to handle the rudders, Shirley and I got them into place on a couple of saw horses.  It was a bit of a business getting them around the lute.  The price we pay for vanity!  I put temporary lashings to keep them in place.

 Before I could fix them permanently, I had to put a capping on the stern.  This had to be carved out so that the rudder doesn't chafe against it and it was easiest to ensure it fitted when the rudder was actually there.

 I decided to go with Dyneema for the lashings, because I was concerned that with braid on braid the core might move in relation to the sheath.  Marlow used to make a wonderful single braid polyester, but I couldn't find it on their website and, anyway, I would have to order it, while I could just pop into All Marine for the Dyneema.  Hanneke and James appear to recommend braid on braid, so I might be making a fuss about nothing, especially as the Dyneema may need replacing in about ten years, due to UV damage. 

 It wasn't the easiest of ropes to work with because unlike polyester, it doesn't melt, so you can't make a nice pointed end with it.  The first length, with a whipping from sewing thread was fine, but after that I had more than a few problems and finally tapered the end and wrapped it with sellotape.

 I pulled it all as tightly as I could, but it's hard to stop it creeping back again once you've tied the final knot.

  I wish I had some Coppercoat left to paint it with.  The final stage is to fill the holes with epoxy.  I spent a lot of time doing this messy job.  I assume the point of this is to stop the rope creeping and/or rotating and chafing.  Anyway, as I'm a neurotic about water getting into the wood, I did a very thorough job.  It didn't end up looking anywhere near as neat as in Wharram's photos!  The Dyneema seemed to wick the epoxy, which is great.

   After it had all hardened off, I removed the supports from under the rudders and to my unbounded relief, they didn't suddenly sag down.  I'd read of a Wharram builder saying this happened to his and wonder if it was my generosity with the epoxy that stopped this from happening.  I am delighted with the finished result.  No friction, no rattling, the rudders close to the stern and all for under $50.  As the saying goes, 'what's not to like?'

It's a long time since I've taken a shot from the top of the stairs.  The idea was to show the rubbing strakes, but to be honest, it's not a great success in that respect.  However, it does show the fact that The End Is In Sight!!

28 April, 2020

Catching up

As I think I may have mentioned, I broke my computer screen some time back.  Shirley gave me a tablet which is great for most things, but not brilliant for blogging.  However, I have managed to get my photos from my camera and with great worries now about all my 'devices' dying on me, have decided to try and get most of them onto this blog.  Besides, the nerdy types are probably interested in the building of my bilgeboards, the description of which has been a bit skimpy.  I may repeat myself from previous blogs and there may be more than the usual number of typos.  Please bear with me.

 Skinning the bilgeboards was harder than I'd anticipated.  The 6mm ply seemed to flop over quite nicely at the dry run stage, even with the temporary screws in, but when it came to gluing it down, it needed a heap of extra screws.  It would have been easier with 3 layers of 4mm, but that's life.

Here you can see the shape of one of the bilgeboards.

 And end on you can see the partially covered leading edge.  Needless to say, the boards couldn't conveniently be covered with plywood and my remaining stocks had to be juggled a bit.  In fact I had to go and buy an extra half sheet for this job.

 A bit of sanding and fairing was required along the leading edge to smooth out where the two sheets of ply met.

 I had made a plywood pattern to help me shape the boards and it was used a zillion times.  It provided the template for the ends and I was pretty satisfied that the boards were fairly similar to one another and not far from the pattern.

 I had the usual business of coating with epoxy and waiting going on, so I thought this might be a good time to tackle the rudders.  Pete and I made the basic shapes years ago and my friend, Rob, had volunteered to shape them.  Life (and a new boat!) had got in the way, and when they decided to move house, the rudders came back, with their noses rounded off, but otherwise much the same as when they'd left.  So I set about shaping them.  Here I am making grooves as a guide to how deeply I should plane the wood off to get a nice taper.

 And here is the first one more or less there.  I found it very difficult to get those last few mm off because I was worried about taking too much off one side, or taking a gouge out at the last minute, etc, etc.

 Meanwhile, back at the bilgeboards: my friend, Gordon, paid a flying visit.  Gordon is both tall and (unsurprisingly) considerably stronger than I.  I desperately wanted to check that the bilgeboards fitted, before finishing them off. I quickly attached the plastic anti-chafe to them and then he and I manhandled the starboard one into the slot from below, which involved some minor earthworks.

 In spite of having bilgeboards in his own boat, Tystie, Gordon, along with just about everybody else, instinctively expected the flat side to go inboard.  I have come to the conclusion that our innate sense of symmetry is what makes us expect the curved side of the board to match the curved side of the boat, but it's reassuring that I'm not the only person who had had to think twice about them.

The fit was acceptably snug athwartships and allowed me to mark where the uphaul block would be placed.

 Fore and aft, the fit was a little too snug.  In a nutshell, for some reason the slots have ended up shorter than intended.  As the boards require plastic anti-chafe along the trailing edge, the only solution was to take the circular saw to them and trim the to size.  As this hardly affected the width of the after end, it was no real issue.

 It was very satisfying to see the board in place, if a little frustrating to realise that it would be a while before they are fitted again.

 We propped it up to get it home.  In reality, it can go further up than this.

 Fish-eye view at anchor.

Looking up the after end.  A triangular filler piece with the downhaul block will be fitted here which, unfortunately, means the boards will have to be loaded from a above.  I will need to rope in extra hands for this, and with all the physical distancing rules that we have to work around, this could be interesting.
 So we took it back to the table and I carried on working on it.  The next thing was to glass them.

 This is one job I enjoy, because I know I can do it well.  I'm still using the same roll of cloth that Paul, from All Marine, gave me at the start of this project.  Considering that other junkie friends have also used it for covering masts and various repairs to their boats, it's done remarkably well!  What a wonderful gift.

 While waiting for the epoxy to cure, I went back to the rudders.  The next stage was to glass them.  I had applied a fair bit of filler to remove the worst of the bumps and hollows.

I am not a great fan of using heavy glass cloth, but made an exception for the bottom of the bilgeboards, which will often act like legs, or 'training wheels' on a child's bike, when I dry out.

The lower part coated.  This will be finished with Coppercoat.

 I have decided to attach the rudders using the method popularised by James Wharram Designs.  Quite apart from it being an inexpensive way of doing the job, there is minimal maintenance and no rattling.  Nor do I need to worry that I have a steel keel and a different metal at the rudder fittings.  No corrosion, etc.  To be honest, I really couldn't get my head around how the work, even after examining them on Bertrand Fercot's Grand PHA.  Nor was I sure how rounded the faces needed to be, so I decided to do a mock-up. 

This showed me what was required and that yes, it does work.  To be honest, it still puzzles my poor little brain as to how it does.  It reminds me of the 'magic boxes' that a magician friend of my dad's used to have.
Now that I knew the bilgeboards would fit, I could make the support which holds the downhaul block.  My ever-useful template allowed me to measure for it fairly accurately - I hope!

In the meantime, black epoxy was being spread with gay abandon on the bilgeboards.  I shall probably leave them like that rather than bothering to paint them.  Or maybe not ...

With the boards coated, I could prop them up out of the way, and fix a chunk of wood to screw the block into: the bottom of the slot was only 12 mm plywood and as the block will lift the full weight of the board, I wanted some substantial fastenings for it.  If you ever wonder, in a job like this, if it's worth keeping small offcuts - the answer if 'yes'.

Here are the wedges that will go at the bottom of the bilgeboard slots.  I'm using simple, Ronstan blocks for these.  In the end I decided to buy them from All Marine, rather than online.  Not only do I like to support local businesses, but if I find I've ordered the wrong thing, I know they'll let me change it for something else.

 I screwed the wedges in place - making sure that only a maximum of 10 mm of screw went into the hull.  I hate fastening things to the hull - one of the disadvantages of a small, plywood boat is how thin the skin is!

The boards coated with resin on the lower part and resin/graphite on the upper part, with the blocks fitted and the clamp screwed on, that will hold the standing end of the up/downhaul in place, could finally be moved off the table and out of the way, so that I could get on with other things.

And seeing as how I was working on the rudders, the 'next thing' might as well be their trim tabs.   I  considered using saligna, but once again, its weight counted against it, in addition to the fact that shaping such hard wood was going to be a mission. 

I still had some of my kauri siding left (thank you Gordie!) and reckoned that even the paint removal, planing, sawing, plugging etc that these required, was still going to be less work than machining, gluing and shaping the saligna.  And certainly a lot easier.  Kauri is a delight to work with.  I cleaned up four big planks, cut the worst bits off and staggered their splits.  I'm getting to the end of it, now and most of the wood is pretty knocked about.  Anyway, I used a generous number of screws to hold it in place while the epoxy cured.

At this time, the easiest way to fit the rudder to the boat appeared to be to make small stern posts.  I could then line everything up on the table and then have no problem when it came to matching rudder holes with stern post holes, when it came to lacing them on.

I had a hefty lump of kauri and it cleaned up pretty well to make the two stern posts.

I matched the stern post to the rudder at one side and the trim tab at the other and marked where the ropes would go.

I temporarily fitted the stern posts and everything was going well, until I offered up the rudder and realised that there wasn't sufficient width for stern post, rudder and trim tab.  These little challenges are sent to try us and are one of the reasons why I will be quite happy never to build another boat.

A lot of tooth sucking and a couple of sleepless nights later, I decided that it is only at the top of the rudder that there would be a problem.  The skeg, to which the rudder will be lashed, goes all the way up to the top of the stern.  My solution - yet to be tested - is to send the rope lashings through the skeg in the same way as lower down, and then back out through the transom.  Hmm.  David tells me that he intended the rudder to fit flush to the stern and assumed that I'd put a bronze fitting top and bottom.  I can see how the bottom one would work, but for the life of me cannot see how a fitting could be attached at the upper end ...

Anyway,  I got  couple of saw horses and added scraps of plywood to bring them to the correct height.  With Shirley's help the rudders were placed in position and I could then mark where the matching, lashing holes should go.  An extra 12mm piece of wood had to be added to the after end of the skeg to bring it out in line with the transom.

It was quite something to see the rudder in place!  And looking just like the drawing.

Drilling the upper holes was awkward, but nowhere near as awkward as lacing the lashings is going to be.  I am a patient person when it comes to this sort of thing, but I anticipate that my reserves will be at rock bottom by the time I've done the job twice.

The upper part of the trim tab needed a fair bit of wood taking off in order to fit in the gap; however, there is still plenty left.

They were shaped with plane, belt sander and random orbit sander, with a fair bit of hand planing.

Wharram Designs suggest 5mm rope and rebating the grooves by 3mm.  I didn't reckon this was a place for the router, so did it the old-fashioned way with a chisel.  I have spent a fair bit of time teaching myself to use a chisel.  I am hardly an expert, but it is satisfying to be able to do a reasonable job in this way.  The lower face still needs cleaning up.  I made a jig to hold the drill in place to make the holes vertical.  It sort of worked.  Needless to say, the photo shows one of the best examples.

Matching, but slightly staggered holes, had to be drilled in the skeg.  I made a template that supposedly has made this foolproof.  This remains to be seen.  I really, really dislike doing this sort of job.  I know only too well how profoundly stupid I can be and it's more than a nuisance if I get it wrong.  Fitting out the interior is much more fun!

The trim tabs turned out quite well, although it was a bit of an issue trying to get them to be both a fair shape and 5mm thick at the trailing edge.  And of course, they are supposed to be perfectly symmetrical and identical, one with the other.  Yeah, right.  I just hope they aren't disastrously different.  It's jobs like this that make me wonder why I ever started this project.

This is the little 'foolproof' template for marking out the holes.  I used the same one for the trimtab as the drilled out smaller holes. 

Here the holes have been drilled on both rudder and trim tab.  You can see the endplates on the rudder here.  Somewhere there are a couple of photos of fitting them, but they seem to have disappeared!  Anyway, the endplates are made from 12mm plywood and stuck on either side.  This means that the bottom of the rudders that might, on occasion, hit the bottom are solid hardwood.  Hopefully, should one of the endplates get trapped and come off, it won't damage the rudder too badly.

I did my usual trick with 2mm string and epoxy to make the 'waterline' on the rudders and trim tab.  Because of I decided to put Coppercoat all over the lower panels of the hull, and in order to keep the sheer of the waterline looking nice, there will be a lot of copper showing above the water aft.  Or at least there should be if the boat ends up anything like the plan.

The rudders stand up quite nicely on their endplates, which makes them a bit easier to move out of the way and generally manhandle around the shed.  Although taller than I and made of saligna, I can lift them up and carry them from one end of the shed to the other, as long as I get the centre of balance correct.

The fact that they would stand up made it possible to coat them with epoxy and graphite in one day.

By clamping the trim tabs to the table leg, I could get them done in one hit, too.

And while I was at it, I coated the whole of the stern.  I won't do this for the rest of the black painted area - it's a lot of work to sand it back and probably not worth it, but I wanted the extra epoxy here: there are more joins than elsewhere and the shiny black is brilliant for showing up all the bumps and hollows. 

So, up to date at last.  The next job is to get the Coppercoat on and then, when it's hardened off, I may as well attach the rudders and get them out of the way.  They and the transom, will all need painting first, of course.