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In Greenland

Iron Bark

Iron Bark
Under full sail


At Russell Boating Club's Tall Ships Regatta

Blue Water Medal

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25 June, 2017

The Tabernacle, plus DIY composting toilet

Early in the piece, I decided that I wanted a tabernacle and David supported this idea.  The obvious reason for putting a junk mast in a tabernacle is that you can raise and lower it without the need for a crane: when the mast is stepped on the keel, getting it in or out is otherwise quite an issue.  It's not just a case of undoing the clasp and giving it a shove backwards, but if you position the boat securely - and in SibLim's case, firmly aground would be the secure spot of choice - and then find a suitable strong point, fairly high up, you can use a rope from the mast head to take the weight and lower it under some form of control.  For all that, it's not something I'm likely to undertake lightly.  However, there were - for me - two additional reasons for wanting a tabernacle.  The first is that a mast that goes through the deck can leak.  It doesn't have to, and indeed, it's rarely been an issue for me, but it can do and when it does it's very unpleasant with the likelihood of getting saltwater on my feather quilt - something that is frankly intolerable.  An unstayed mast needs to be keel stepped, but if you bury it firmly in a tabernacle that is keel stepped, you achieve the same ends, but as the tabernacle will never have to come out, it can be glued in at deck level and won't leak.  Point number one.  Point number two is that as I can't afford either the cost or the weight of a wooden mast, SibLim's mast will be made like Fantail's, with an alloy lower mast and a wooden upper one.  I don't like alloy: it's cold and unattractive.  However, the tabernacle could be build out of wood - indeed that would be the easiest way to build it and a nicely varnished tabernacle would be a thing of beauty in my forecabin.  And so it was decided.  That Pete should offer to come along and make me one was the icing on the cake.

BBS Timbers are a pleasure to deal with, there's no doubt about it and their wood is first-class.  I bought the Douglas fir for the topmast from them and it's some of the best I've ever seen.  However, it cost me the best part of a thousand dollars and I didn't think I could afford possibly even more for my tabernacle.  Pete had recently build a topmast for another junkie, here in NZ and had bought some beautiful demolition Douglas fir from St Lukes Timber - a timber yard just outside Auckland, so I went down there one day, and bought two big 2 large beams, each 200 x 150 and brought them back to Whangarei.  They were still eye-wateringly expensive, but about a quarter of what the timber would have cost new.

Pete came along to build the tabernacle just after the JRA AGM, in early April, and an Ozzie junkie, Dieter, came along to join in the fun.  Between them they milled the timber to suitable dimensions and then Pete got to work.  The two large beams were machined into 50mm boards for the tabernacle. There were two, almost knot-free boards which Pete selected for the two long timbers that would go from the keel, through the deck and up another metre to form the sides of the tabernacle.

I have fond memories of the tabernacle that we fitted on Missee Lee, and ever the nostalgia junkie, was hoping to reproduce the effect on SibLim.  Pete and I were delighted - and somewhat surprised - to see we could get the large boards of Douglas fir to bend to a pleasing taper, which will look much more attractive than a straight, solid section.

At deck level there is a laminated block, which provides support at the base of the mast and incidentally stiffens the deck at this point.  We made it of a couple of pieces, with the upper part of kwila, left over from the skegs, which is nice and hard in case the mast does move and chafe a little.

Because the tube is round, we had to make the tabernacle to support this.  We machined some triangular section pieces of Douglas fir and glued these into the corners of the tabernacle to support the mast.  Here I am precoating the sides before gluing the chocks on.

And here are the wedges, ready to be glued into place.

The wedges weren't the easiest of things to clamp into place.  It's times like this when I really appreciate the fact that epoxy really only needs to make good contact between the gluing surfaces, and doesn't require pressure.

Pete shaping the top of the tabernacle where the hinge system (yet to be designed) will fit.  The logical way to hinge the mast would be to put a damn great bolt through it and pivot on that.  However, this would seriously weaken the alloy tube and it wouldn't actually do much for the tabernacle.  The idea is to attach something to the back of the mast - like a tube - in some way use this for pivoting around.  This would be a lot easier with a wooden base, but for the moment the design is 'on hold' while I wait for inspiration to strike.  It's not exactly a priority at the moment!

The lower part of the tabernacle can be left partly open, fore and aft for the sake of aesthetics, because it takes very little load. The fill-in piece is curved to spread loads evenly where it ends.  It's not necessary to take it right down to the keel and completely unnecessary to have timber down the front of the tabernacle.  I debated fitting little shelves across, on which to display objets d'art, but as you would have to sit at the forward end of the bunk to admire them, decided it probably wasn't worth it.  But it would have been a nice little touch.

Douglas fir was laminated into blocking for the base of the tabernacle.  This is where it will sit in what is effectively a mast step and because the loads from the mast will be transferred down the tabernacle to this point, it needs to be substantial.  From pure and personal observation, the partners don't seem to take a vast amount of load - but the foot does.


The main pieces laid out ready to assemble. Above decks, everything is covered in bi-axial glass cloth and epoxy. I hate using bi-axial - it's impossible to wet it out invisibly, which I take a pride in doing.  But it does add strength to the job.  However, as bi-axial fibreglass goes, it went on OK.

Once the epoxy had cured, I sanded everything down and then the back of the tabernacle was screwed and glued to the sides.  While the glue was setting up. we added a couple of clamps just to ensure that it all stayed square.  It's now starting to look something like and those who had been coming to watch now had expressions of slowly-dawning illumination when they looked at it.  Tabernacles for free-standing masts are not really 'intuitive'.

We'd used pretty massive screws to hold  everything together and these required a plugging.  My puny little cutters came nowhere near the job, but fortunately Noel, the Whangarei boatbuilder who works at Norsand has everything in one or other of his numerous tool boxes.  He generously lent me what was required and I spent a happy time, standing in the corner cutting plugs from scrap Douglas fir.

Here you can see the blocking at the base of the mast, and also get a good idea of the nice quality of the fir.

These are some of the screws that had to be plugged.  Most of the time, I remove fastenings when I'm building.  They add cost (and weight!), but they can also make it difficult to do repairs.  However, when you get to such large timbers, you are asking a lot of the glue, so a couple of additional fastenings does add reassurance.

All the inside of the tabernacle, where the mast will be, is covered in glass and epoxy and then coated again. It will all be painted in due course, above decks.  

Below decks, the glass stops and the tabernacle is just coated in several coats of clear epoxy.  This will be varnished, and so I have a 'wooden mast' below rather than an alloy one.  You can see the cut-off point quite clearly here: in spite of my best efforts, the bi-axial glass looks slightly milky due to entrapped air.

Needless to say, we could hardly wait to offer it up and see what it looks like.  It's both long and heavy and it was a bit of a struggle to get it into place without knocking bits off anything.  Pete, in the forward cabin, gives some idea of scale. The yellow batten more or less delineates the line of the deck.  In all honestly, I have to say that it looks pretty massive!  And yes, it is off-centre.  This is to allow for a bigger bunk and means that the sail will end up on the centre line.  Putting masts on the centreline is an occidental obsession.  In the days when the Chinese built large, ocean going junks, they used to scatter the masts around with gay abandon, apparently wherever there was an unused spot.

This photograph is what the tabernacle will look like when sitting up in the bunk.  Thankfully, it is somewhat less dominating.  In fact, I find it very pleasing and a lot more attractive than the alloy tube I had next to my pillow on Fantail.  We took it out again after the trial: I need to make a step to hold it in place, first.

As I mentioned in the previous post, before doing this, I had first to establish exactly how far it was from keel to deck and to do this I had to fit deck beams to work out where the deck was to go.  

By the end of May, I had built up the sheer clamp, ready to plane to shape and notch for the deck beams.  However, it is difficult to get at, and my friend and landlord, Marcus, promised to make me a staging to work from.  This has proven to be a bit easier said that done as he has been otherwise occupied in the Bay of Islands.  However - there is no shortage of work on a boat in build.

I carried on in the forecabin.  I've been giving a bit of thought to insulation.  I don't see my taking SibLim into icy waters, but it can get a bit nippy here in NZ and as well as a wood stove for heat, I will need to consider condensation.  However too much insulation makes for a cold boat in spring and autumn mornings.  So I've decided just to insulate alongside the bunk and have an air gap in the deckhead.  

 Marcus had some insulation material kicking around and offered me some, which I stuck to the side of the boat.  I then made a plywood panel to cover the insulation alongside the bunk and the little chocks are to glue it to.

As usual, I pre-coated the back.  I'd had notions of being able to staple it to the blocking, but even after giving the insulation a trim so that it didn't require compressing, I discovered that there was simply too much curve in the hull here.  So it was back to drilling holes, backing out screws and filling again.

After doing this, I decided to do a bit more preparation work for painting, so that I can get the job done as I go along.  Otherwise it will be an enormous effort at the end of the build.  So I've been coating and filleting along chine logs and stringers, sanding and filling, filling and sanding.  I can hardly go for a 'super-yacht' finish - nor would I if I could - but I'm after something that is neat and workmanlike.
 Alongside the bilgeboards, on deck, are two lockers, which I may well use for firewood.  They should be relatively dry and because they are isolated from the rest of the boat, I will be able to bring wood aboard from ashore, without worrying too much about dirt and insects.  As I walk past them every day, I decided to get some paint inside them.  I also drilled a couple of drainage holes for the inevitable rain water that will find its way in.

This seems like a good time to start on the heads comparment, too.  I have decided on the jerricans that I'm using for my water supplies and flopped down a floorboard to check that they would fit under OK.  No problems.  However, I'm fitting a composting toilet and need to be sure that I have room for a hatch for these jerricans, between it and the bulkhead.
The passage way is offset, but pretty wide.  The original plan was to have the head facing inboard, but perching myself there on a handy bucket felt distinctly precarious.  I'd much rather have the toilet fore and aft with a wee bulkhead to support me.  But that would mean I'd have to shift my planned battery stowage.  Time spent with a tape measure appears to show that this idea will work, but seeing as how I was thinking about, I decided to go ahead and make a composting heads.

I had had a C-head on Fantail and loved it.  But it hadn't been cheap and the wee bottle was a bit too wee for my requirements.  Churning the compost doesn't seem essential, so I decided to try making my own, without.

Accepting having the locally-owned DIY store's logo on the 20 litre bucket saved me $13 and there is no shortage (I regret to say) of disposable water bottles about, so I scavenged one from the skip.  The trickiest part of a composter is keeping the liquids and solids separated, and I decided to invest in an off-the-shelf urine diverter from Kildwick low impact toilets

in the UK.  Infuriatingly, I found a cheaper one at We pee, but I also found plans to make a toilet at the same site.  It's hardly rocket science, but a set of plans does point out such things as making sure the back of the seat is square.  I decided to make my seat, too, out of Tiger wood (Marcus and I bought a load from BBS).
Here is the seat itself, placed on the lid, ready for marking.  You make the hole in the plywood a bit bigger and then secure the seat to it.  Apparently, the thinking appears to be that you ventilate the box, but you don't let air in or out around the seat and lid.  I gather this reduces insect issues too, not that I had any with the C-head.  Behind you can see the plywood cut to size.  The heads bulkhead will form the back and the sole will form the bottom, with everything filleted together, to make it easy to keep clean.  When I tried it all out, I found it was far too high.  I need the height if I continue to use the 6 litre water bottle, but 5 litres should be adequate, so I've decided to cut it down 50mm and see what I can find.  If all else fails, I can buy this from the Little House Company.

18 June, 2017

June 2017 SibLim update

Last week, I had to create a new photo album on my profile in the JRA website, which is where I've been posting my progress.  I was told that I couldn't have any more, so I deleted one and created a new one.  However, obviously this is a finite resource, which gave me pause to think.  Cheerfully, I came to the conclusion that I couldn't carry on posting my progress there, so would have to redirect people to this blog, instead.  I say 'cheerfully', because posting to the JRA site is a slow and painful process and then I have to make the time to post here, too.  And it is only too apparent to anyone following this log, that finding that time is a lot easier said than done.

There is a fair amount of relatively mindless work involved in boatbuilding.  Sanding and scraping, filleting and fairing, painting and preparation all required care and concentration, but they do leave a large part of the brain disengaged to wander off.  Part of the time it is thinking through the next job or series of jobs, but much of the time it ambles off thinking Deep Thoughts about Life, the Universe and Everything.  Occasionally, these thoughts are at least slightly illuminating.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that women are good at 'multi-tasking'.  However, what appears to be overlooked, and what is becoming painfully obvious to me as a female boatbuilder, is that there are two sides to this coin.   Indeed, an unkind person might suggest that 'multi-tasking' could also be described as 'being sidetracked'.  It certainly is in my case. I start each week - and each day - with the best of intentions, but somehow my plans go awry and I find myself distracted with other jobs that I am perfectly convinced are absolutely essential.  Undoubtedly, it is better if most of these are done, but many of them could be postponed - indefinitely in many cases.  Yes, this would cost me friendships, let people down, mean that I break promises, narrow my outlook and increase the squalor around me, but in the past when I've been building a boat, because I've been building under the supervision of a man, I've been building to his terms and conditions and did all of the above.  The friends forgave us, horizons expanded again and the squalor got left behind.  And the boats got built a lot more quickly.

Men on the other hand, are extraordinarily good at concentrating on one thing at a time, for extensive periods of time - years, if needs be.  I wish I could get in touch with my 'inner man' and build like men do.  I wish I could happily abandon everything else to concentrate on the task in hand, but I find that I can't.  I have to multi-task, you see.  That's what women do and it sounds so much better than being sidetracked.

Anyway, enough maundering.  We have to go back to April.  I do hope I'm not just wasting my time here and somebody is actually interested (I should be building my boat: see above), but there aren't going to be an overwhelming number of photos: I don't seem to have done that much!  (See above)  Actually, I realise I tell a lie here, because I'd forgotten all about building the tabernacle - maybe I have managed a bit more than it seems, although I was back to the mixing-glue-and-standing-by role in that one.  Of which more later - in a couple of weeks, maybe.  I'm going to have a catch-up today, rather than trying to get every bit of progress posted.  Gives you something to look forward to!

OK. Back to 7 April:

We are now in the forecabin, where I cut a hatch out of the cabin sole, which has to be cut into two boards, fore and aft.  The tabernacle is going to be situated against the bunk with its after end against the plywood floor (under the join in the plywood.  I then glued the surrounding area of the sole down.  This will be covered with a nice hardwood overlay and then, because I'm me, that will probably be hidden by a beautiful rug (Chinese silk for preference.  Why not?  A girl can dream!)

In the meantime, Pete (yes, that Pete), who has spent the summer in New Zealand helping junkies left, right and centre move their boats forward, offered to help me make the tabernacle.  Because he is the world expert on tabernacles for junk rig, I snatched his hand off.  For a lot of the time, he needed no help as he beavered away at the rather nice, second-hand douglas fir that we'd bought from St Lukes Timber, so when I wasn't required, I carried on finishing up the foredeck: a job I could pick up and put down. Here I'm placing the bow rollers, which made it instantly apparent that they would have to stay off for the duration of the build, if I wanted to continue to be able to get around the bow!

Gary Underwood had sold me a couple of splendid bronze fittings, from which I made a bollard for the foredeck (to be used for when I pick up moorings.  Yes, it looks like overkill, but I'll be happy that it's so big when I'm struggling to get an oyster-encrusted mooring pennant over the bow roller, and its 20mm rope strop secured).  The cruciform bollard I bought second-hand off Trade Me.  It will go on a teak plinth, which is just about to be glued down, in the photo.  I made epoxy bases for the other fittings - the bolts, as usual, will be 'cast' in epoxy.

With everything completed, I started varnishing some of the teak deck - purely for the looks of it.  In the long term, it means that when the teak is badly worn and weathered and needs replacing, the covering boards and 'king plank' can stay in place, but I doubt that I'll still be around to worry about that! 

The tabernacle was completed by now and of course I was itching to try it for size and build the mast step.  But before I could do that, I had to work out the height of the deck at that point because the foot of the tabernacle is tapered and has to be a very precise fit in its step.  We made it a bit too long because we didn't know - to the nearest few mm - just where it would go through the deck.  So the best way to find that out was to measure it against the actual deck level, but to do that I needed deck beams to tell me and to do that I had to fit the deck beams ... which I first had to make.  They consist of two straight ends with a curved centre piece, part of a cylinder, identical from one beam to the next.  (One of David Tyler's cunning ideas to make the build less difficult.)  The obvious way to make this curve is from laminated wood, so after sawing up and planing a heap of douglas fir, to 5mm thickness, I made a jig to laminate it around.

I've held the clamps on this job on the past, while building Badger and China Moon, so had a fairly good idea of what to do.  And epoxy is wonderful for laminating, because it fills gaps so well, but I was very pleased to see that my jig performed quite nicely.

On the first beam, however, I factored in a 'glue allowance'. Wrong. The glue made no measurable difference to the finished thickness. 6 x 5 = 30mm, finishing at 29. Good enough.  No problem on beam no 1 - I simply added another laminate.  

I dare say that I've already mentioned that new wood is fantastically expensive (well, to me, it seems fantastically expensive) and having just about got through my supplies of Alaskan yellow cedar, I've been scratching around for more.  The straight parts of the beams would gobble through stock, but just when I was thinking that another visit to St Luke's might be required, friends (now SibLim Club members) Cathy and Pete came up with a wonderful contribution.  They are, for their sins, rebuilding a house, up in the Bay of Islands and Marcus has been working there.  He noted a 'surplus' douglas fir beam and when I offered to buy it, they gave it to me.  What a gift! I could hardly move it, but when Marcus came back for a weekend, he helped me clean it up.

It cleaned up nicely: milling wood must be one of the most pleasant jobs in boatbuilding!

It was too big to saw up with the table saw, but Marcus picked up his enormous Makita circular saw and ripped it up into manageable lengths for me to handle.

Once I'd made the centre sections of each deck beam, I scarphed on the end pieces.  

(We are now in early May, by the way.)  This was one of the rather more satisfying jobs to do.  As you can see, the ends just fly past the scarph that I've cut on the curved section, which means that producing a nice joint is rather more easy than normally.  For all that, I clamped and wedged all three lengths as well as I could along lines I'd drawn on the table in an effort to introduce in as little symmetry as possible.  (In spite of my best efforts, the curved sections are not perfectly symmetrical.  There is a tad more curve on one side than the other, so I marked them all to ensure that they match up.)

Using the bandsaw, I took off the bulk of the excess and then set to with the power plane, which I am starting to find marginally less terrifying to use.

When all the deck beams were completed, I put them roughly in place. There was no real justification for this apart from the fact that I was dying to see what the boat would 'feel' like with the deck in place.  The bulkheads have yet to be trimmed to shape, but backing up, I could eye along their centres and it all looks reasonably fair.

When I'd been making the beams and placed them one on top of the other, they were disappointingly varied.  However, in situ, they look much better: distance lends enchantment.

When I come to fit the deck plywood, I can plane and fill as required along glued-in beams, to get everything fair. They need to be notched into the sides of the boat.  It looks smaller (and nicer), framed in, I think.

The deck beams to support the tabernacle are more or less in position, in the above photo.  (In fact, I'll probably put the after one more in the middle of the cabin, with blocking between the two beams.)  You will recall that this is where it all started!

With the beams made, I now have to complete the sheer clamp, in order to plane it down again(!), so that I can notch in the beams.  I'd had a blithe notion of picking up a bit of 2x1 and whacking it into place.  Not a chance! There is a lot of curve - both ways - along this sheer line.

Here I'm gluing on the second length, with the scarph joint awaiting the next piece.  Some of the last of my yellow cedar going on here.

With all the layers on, I sanded it fair and coated it with epoxy on the inside.  It showed up the places I'd been somewhat careless with the initial layers, when the hull had been upside down.  If I'd had any brains, I'd have left it all well alone until at this stage, but thinking that far ahead is literally impossible for me.  
This last photo was taken on 30 May, so you are not that far behind me, now.  With luck, I'll post some more next week.

In the meantime, if someone can tell me how to get in touch with my inner male and learn how to focus on getting this job done, I should be very grateful!