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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

18 November, 2017

First, some musings

Well, this is a blog.  But if you are only interested in the boatbuilding part of it, then go down the page until you see 'Back to Boatbuilding' in big, friendly letters.

I heard a programme on the radio recently where the interviewee was pointing out the difference between being a materialist and being a consumer.  They are, in fact, antithetical because a materialist loves things and a consumer loves buying things.  So, a materialist hangs on to her beloved 10-year old boots, a consumer dumps them for new ones.  Materialists cherish their possessions, consumers only enjoy their newness.  His point was that we need to appreciate the difference so that we can live in a prosperous world, with a lively economy, but without using too many resources.  I guess his point was that the service economy makes the world - ie the money - go round without significantly depleting our wonderful planet.  I found this interesting and I also like the concept of being able to use the word materialist without any pejorative overtones.  One has a lot of time to fret about the future, building a boat.

New Zealand is a magic country, in many ways, and considering our latitude, we get the opportunity of enjoying things that many people have to travel great distances to encounter.  We have glaciers; sailing up here in N North Island I have seen Giant Petrels and Sooty Albatross - birds I associate with South Georgia.  Equally I can buy locally-grown bananas and avocados, and even sugar cane, should I so desire.  Recently, those of us at Norsand had an unexpected treat.  A young Leopard Seal decided to pay us a visit.

 Now the last time I recall seeing a Leopard Seal was in the South Orkney Islands, so you could say that this youngster was a bit out of his range.  I was quite impressed that all the lads in the yard instantly identified it, until I heard that apparently it had been hauled out on one of the pontoons in the Whangarei Town Basin, to the consternation of the Powers That Be, who had closed the pontoon off so that people wouldn't get hurt.  The media had enjoyed the story.

To be fair, it was but a baby - no more than 6 ft long, but it has to be said that even at this age its teeth were pretty impressive.  For sure, the yard cats were sensible in keeping well away from it.  And even the slipway team was a little reluctant to shoo it away when they needed to use the slip.  They resorted to turning a hose on it, but it seemed thoroughly to enjoy the fresh water all over it, its smile getting bigger as it was sprayed.  Finally the pressure was turned up high enough that it decided that this was no longer fun and, somewhat reluctantly, abandoned its sunbathing and swam away.  Sadly, it hasn't returned.  But what a privilege to get a visit from one of these magnificent animals.


 OK, now where were we?  Well, actually, 'we've' taken a week off to go and visit my old friends Katie and Maurice in Nelson.  I love Nelson - such a lovely little city, with a view of the snow-topped mountains (a little had just fallen when the plane landed!) and lapped by the waters of Tasman Bay.  Compact, with lovely parks, bookshops, galleries, restaurants, a waterfront and a river.  What more could anyone wish for?  Well, some better cruising nearby, which is why I'm based in Northland.  But if I weren't a sailor, I'd be in Nelson, or possibly nearby Motueka (Mot to its friends), where I went by bus to visit the Tiddles.  So great to catch up with friends and more than worth abandoning my labours to do so.  I also got to see what Pirate Pearl is up to and had lunch with Dennis, catching up on all the goss.   Thank you, all of you, for making me feel so welcome.

Then it was back to the shed and work.

 In my absence, my new stove  had arrived.  No window, admittedly, but the price was right and it looks well made.  I'm rapt with it.  I may even go and buy some nice yellow, heatproof paint to pick out the lovely little flower.  By the way, the stove is dark green - it's not just the photo.  Isn't it sweet?  I can't wait to have it lit, with a kettle or - better - a jug of mulled wine on top.  However, it will be a while yet, before I get to enjoy that experience.

 In the meantime, I've been carrying on in the forecabin, making the doors.  Badger doors.  Why not?  I liked them and I know how to make them.  Moreover they are very lightweight.  For those interested, I assembled them in the locker framing itself, edge gluing the four corners with PVA.  (I used PVA because if a bit dribbled unnoticed, the wood wouldn't be stuck forever.)  Then I gingerly removed them - PVA isn't that good a glue - and putting them in a wood vice, dowelled each corner, again with PVA, which is good in this job.  Once it had set, they could be routed for panelling.  The panels are cut from kauri, chamfered to look like T&G  and put into a rabbet that is routed round the back edge. 

Then both sides of the door are coated with neat epoxy, ensuring that it penetrates any gaps in the joints and between the panels.  The finished door is astonishingly stiff.  I don't recommend putting your hand against the panels to stop you falling, but they are well strong enough for normal use and abuse.

 Finally, with the doors ready, it's time to make the drawer fronts, so now I could glue down the counter top.  It fits quite nicely and judicious use of a full gas cylinder and the vacuum cleaner along the outer edge, made for a good 'squodge' of glue, to use a technical term.  (Lugging the gas cylinder up the ladder was a timely reminder of one of the many reasons I don't want to cook on gas!)

To finish the forecabin I 'only' need to make a fiddle on the counter, make the drawer fronts, fit the doors, make some bookshelves, and cap the bunk side.  Oh, and varnish it all.  I also need to finish the cabin sole, but can't do that until the tabernacle is in.  There are four portholes to fit, too.  There's still a bit of a way to go before I can move on. 

04 November, 2017

Forecabin fitout

For me, fitting out the boat is the best bit of the building.  If I make a mess of it, it's not a catastrophe, like it would be if I made a mess of the rudder or mast.  It also feels creative and I like using my mind to think about what is needed in the way of accommodation for me, trying to think what will go where, and what spaces are needed.  No doubt I shall forget several things on the way, but that's only to be expected.

 Making the little shelf to go over the bunk was quite straightforward, but I was a little surprised at how extremely curved it turned out to be.  Fortunately I managed to find a piece of flexible wood that would take the bend.  I'm not exactly sure what it is, not kauri, but similar enough that it won't 'shout at you'.  The clamps couldn't get a very strong grip on 6mm plywood, but the epoxy did the job.  Wonderful stuff.

Having painted the shelves for the big locker, I could then start to fit them.  The lower one was pretty straightforward, glued to the runners and then with a large fillet to the hull.  It had to be propped from underneath, because even with the fiddle, it had a strong tendency to droop.  The gap outboard, ended up wider than anticipated, but once the epoxy had set up, it was very solid.

 Then I fitted the little shelf.  I used a router to slot the supports for it.  With a fiddle inboard and a wide stringer outboard, it will be very well supported.  The forward end will be for smaller books, the after end for my morning cuppa.  I look forward to sit up in bed, looking at the view, with a cup of Lapsang Souchong,on a winter morning, having lit the fire to  warm up the cabin.

 My beautiful tigerwood is being laminated to the counter top.  Sawn in two and then planed, it produces a lot of expensive sawdust but the total weight isn't much more than an equally-stiff plywood counter top would be.  All these shelves help add stiffness to the hull.  I had, at one time, thought of making them removable, but it seemed silly to have dead weight instead of the joinery all adding to the boat's strength.

 The next job was to make the framework for the locker doors.  The forward end support on the bulkhead had to be glued in after the shelves and I kept experiencing mild panic that I might glue something in place and then find that I couldn't manoeuvre the shelves into position.

Bookshelves will go across the forward bulkhead between the bunk and the locker.  The 'dead space' outboard will be accessible, with a bit of a wriggle, through the adjacent door.  There's so much storage that I doubt much will end up there. A panelled bulkhead fills in under the counter.

 The tigerwood dry-fitted to the counter top.  Again, I think plugged holes will look fine and it's a lot easier than trying to clamp these big projects because I don't have the necessary sash clamps.

 The counter top coated and put to one side in readiness.  The dark, figured wood contrasts beautifully with the kauri.

 Gluing in the top shelf. The framework was all put into place, but not yet glued, so that I could get under the shelf the following morning in order to fillet it along its outboard side.  I also had to be careful that the framework didn't get glued by mistake!

Unable to think of any reason why I shouldn't, I then finally glued the whole framework into place.  I had attempted to fit the lower frames from the bottom of one stile to the bottom of the next, but soon realised that, especially with a stringer in the way, it was well beyond my capacities.  So I fitted them horizontally, arguing that they will allow for a little ventilation.

Finally, I coated the whole lot with neat resin.  (I didn't have quite enough for a second coat on the forward end of the panelling.

Next job: make the doors.  (I'm still painting the little shelf, in case you were wondering.)

21 October, 2017

Smaller pieces of plywood

Having started to make the forecabin locker so that I could put in the big piece of plywood, it became obvious, that underneath would be more pieces of plywood, which would be a lot easier to glue in from the bottom up.

The top of the locker will simply be a shelf.  I've thought about incorporating a bookshelf at one end for larger books, but as well as the weight being high up and forward, I decided it would make the cabin feel cluttered.  In a small boat it's difficult keeping weight out of the ends, or avoiding weight high up, but I try.

 Under the shelf will be drawers.  The conventional way is to make them on rails, but I decided it would be easier simply to put them on another shelf. 

 And under that shelf will be a third one.  I anticipate keeping clothes in this locker.  I'd though of putting the sewing machine there, but I think under the bunk might be a better place for it.  It's not too heavy to lift from there.  (Originally, I'd hoped it would fit forward, but it would be awkward to wriggle in and out of the space and around the tabernacle.)

 Making drawers is a time-consuming business, even if you just make very simple boxes.  I decided to cheat by buying plastic boxes instead (I bought the green one as a sample and when I went back, the rest had sold out!).  As you can see, the after ones are a bit wasteful of space, but this boat is going to have heaps of storage and I don't want to overload her with more and more 'stuff'.  The forward space will a locker with a simple door for access. 

 The drawers can obviously slide from side to side in their spaces, but the fronts will prevent them from going outboard and there will be catches to keep them in place.  There is much less reason for them to slide fore and aft, and I decided runners of 12mm ply would do the job.  As I had some precoated scraps kicking around, these were ideal.  I put them down on epoxy with weights.

Here are the shelves roughly in place, drooping sadly.  I will hot glue chocks underneath to support the outboard edge and then run a big fillet to hold them in place.

Trying to draw these things out in advance doesn't really help me much, because I still can't visualise it all, so I have to 'wing' it.  Needless to say, this usually includes a bit of going backwards, but there we are.  The shelf holding the drawers is being used to place the stiles.  There will be doors underneath the drawers and, under the lower shelf, the awkward triangular place will be the ideal shoe locker.  (My friend Maren instantly noticed this: she's the only other person who has thought about the fact that shoes require a home.  It is actually on my list of 'things to think about finding homes for'.  Yes, I do like shoes.)

And once again, it's back to painting, having found that doing this in advance saves time, frustration and getting paint in my hair.

Although you won't be able to see the bit of panelling, I will, when I go rummaging into the depths of that locker, so it has to be masked off.  (I believe this is known as Compulsive-Obsessive Disorder.)

 Unlike many people, I enjoy painting out lockers.  It's relatively mindless, because not even I fuss too much about the finish.  I find fitting out very satisfying but incredibly difficult due to my inability (a) to visualise more than the outline of what I'm trying to achieve and (b) to think ahead more than a couple of moves at a time.  So splashing paint about is relaxing.

While I'm at it, I'm painting the parts of the shelves where the reflected light will help.  It seems a waste of effort to paint the drawer shelf or the bottom of the lowest shelf and it's a lot faster to flocoat it.  I would like to finish this boat before the end of the decade. 

After weeks, if not months, of debate, I have made the major decision to put a narrow shelf along the port side over the bunk.  The stringer is not that high above the bunk, but there will be a porthole between it and the deckhead, so that limits where a shelf can go.  I've been worrying about catching my shoulder on it, but in the end decided I could get away with it, if it's no wider than 150mm.  That allows me to put my morning cup of tea down (it's hard to imagine that I'll ever live in such a relaxed way again!) and the forward end will hold part of my library.  I was amazed how many books are narrower than 150mm.  I used the top shelf from the starboard side to make a pattern. 

So, back to the paint brush.

07 October, 2017

Big sheets of plywood

One day, I'll fit the deck beams - promise.  In the meantime, I'm still fooling around with big sheets of plywood that need to be fitted before that happens.

I can't decide, in advance, exactly where the hatches are going to be installed in the saloon/galley cabin sole, or even if I'm going to install hatches at all.  I may just divide the plywood into manageable pieces.  My water containers are going to live under the forward part, so I do need to be able to get under it regularly.  That being so, I 'lofted' the shape and planed a bevel on it.  I tried fitting it three times, but it was too big, and by the third attempt my back was complaining.  (It's almost a full sheet and needs lugging up the scaffolding and then - gently - placing down inside.  My hands aren't strong enough to grip a sheet and lift it, so I decided to wait until Marcus was around to give me a hand!

Still, I could fit the other big piece of plywood.  I'd cut out the athwartships framing for the forecabin locker ages ago and now fitted a kauri fore-and aft frame.  Taking a leaf out of Badger's book, I butted the joints and dowelled them after the event.  A good way of making strong joints for bodgers.

I've finally managed to get my head around a 'tick stick'.  I've read about it dozens of times, but always by people who assume you know what they're talking about.  Well I didn't.  However, I've recently discovered a site for DIY boatbuilders.  Most of the posts are quite irrelevant to me, but there are some little gems, including one that told me all about how to make and use a 'tick stick' .  So I followed the instructions.

The thing that makes this 'tick stick' work for complete amateurs, is that you cut out a series of notches in the wood and include these in your locating marks.  The notches all being different, it makes it easy to be sure you've got you stick back in the right place.  (If you want to know more about the process, please follow the link above.  It's explained far better than I can!)

I marked out the plywood and then cut it conservatively before offering it up.  I also checked the measurements from the framework, by measuring.  By the time it was trimmed to fit, I was very impressed with the 'tick stick' method.  I could have trusted my original markings and cut it accurately.  Before I could do any more on it, I needed to flocoat the underside ready for paint.  You don't need a photo of that.

It occurred to me that before I struggle once again to fit the cabin sole, it would be wise to put some extra framing in place, first.  This was all cut to length, notched and then glued into place.

Then the corners were filleted - the outboard ends of the bearers had already been filleted into place.  I considered whether or not to paint it all, but decided it would be a lot quicker simply to put one thick coat of epoxy over all the bilge area up to the first stringer.  There will be light enough to find my water containers and anything that is stored aft.  Great stuff, epoxy, for making things look good!

30 September, 2017

Sometime I sits and thinks; sometimes I just sits

I've been doing a lot of thinking, tooth-sucking and head-scratching recently and a lot of it has ended up with me sitting in a numbed daze.  Two issues are exercising my mind of late.  The first is my fruitless quest for a nice wood-burning stove - preferably one that will burn coal on occasion.

About a year ago, I discovered the most beautiful tiny stove in the world, made by a craftsman near Wellington.  As well as being beautifully made, carefully thought out, the right size and having the essential glass door, it had an additional gorgeous feature: both of the dampers had a huge glass marble set into them through which the light would refract, making glorious colours on the deckhead.  I should have bought it then and there but, foolishly put it off, not wanting it to be kicking around too long in case it got damaged.  A few months later I wrote to buy it and David, the creator, wrote back to say he was sorry, but he'd gone out of business.  People just weren't prepared to pay for good stoves and he couldn't afford to keep his workshop going.  And it wasn't even particularly expensive.  I could have wept - very nearly did in fact.

Since then I've been looking for an alternative.  I want it to be attractive, I want it to have a glass door, but the space for it is only 12"/300 mm wide, and I need to have an air gap between the stove and the settee.  Thus far it's impossible to find what I want.  So if anyone knows of a nice wood/coal burner, maximum 10"/250mm wide, but preferably less, with a window in the door at an affordable price (ie maximum NZ$1,000), please let me know.

The other thing that has been exercising my mind is a cooker.  I don't want gas - the bottles that are easy to refill weigh too much to manhandle out of the dinghy when they are full, and even when empty are a mission to lug along the street.  Getting small ones filled is difficult and expensive and they only last a week or so in winter.  I cook a lot: I get through gas.  And that, of course, is before the safety debate, the complex plumbing, etc, etc. 

Paraffin/kerosene is no longer cheap nor readily available (of good quality) and the spares for a primus-type cooker are very expensive.  I've cooked on paraffin for several decades, but it makes the deckhead grubby and the whole boat ends up smelling of it.  It's a marvellous way of cooking, but ...

Alcohol is the obvious way to go.  However, the Maxie  that I had on Fantail, while an excellent concept, was not well made and corroded out as I looked at it.  It wasn't cheap, either.  I didn't want another one.

I got hold of a pressure alcohol cooker, but spare burners seem impossible to find and as I've no idea how long they last, used on a daily basis, I chickened out - not wanting to have to rebuild my galley around a different cooker.

I was going to go and buy an Origo alcohol cooker, but David, who designed SibLim, says they are useless and that I'll regret it.  There has been some discussion on a JRA forum about them and I must admit that they sound less than perfect.  I had also seriously considered fitting one of their ovens and had even worked out how to get it from the US (they are unavailable here), but after due thought have probably scrapped that idea.  They are eyewateringly expensive and it would be a bit of a shoehorn fit.  I suddenly had visions of what would happen if it turned out to be 5mm too big and got cold feet. As well, I had a horrible feeling that in this case, More might turn out to be Less.  KISS.

In the meantime, David, has decided to make the perfect alcohol cooker, tentatively knows as TGO eco-oker.  He is a very clever man and may well produce something that works, but why, oh why, does no-one produce a good, fast, well-made alcohol cooker for heaven's sake?

In the meantime, I've been trying to work out just what my galley and saloon are going to look like and this, in turn, has put me off installing the deck beams once again.  For me to visualise how it's all going to work, I need the cabin sole down - or most of it.  And that is a big piece of plywood. 

So that led me on to doing a job that I'd been putting off - finishing off the floors in the saloon/galley area and filleting and coating the bulkheads, where necessary, and the bilge area.

Somewhere in the past, I had a panic attack that the cedar floors were a bit dainty and decided to reinforce them with purpleheart ones.  Now I feel that this is entirely unnecessary - there's not much leverage from a 150mm keel that's glued to the bottom of the boat!  However, I'd fitted some forward, so I did the same aft.  they look reassuring.  The photos shows the final one in place, with lead weights and temporary fastenings holding it in place until the epoxy cures.

The next job was to fillet everything - structural fillets along the bottom and up the plywood floor.  Before this could be done, everything had to be cleaned, sanded, scraped where necessary, and generally made ready.  I did it section by section; there was a lot of hand sanding and my fingertips were rubbed raw!

Finally, it was all coated.  In due course, the sides of the hull will be painted, but I shall at least dry fit (some of) the furniture first, to minimise the amount of paint that will have to be taken off again.  However, painting before locker lids go in place is worth a lot of time and grief.

So it doesn't look like a lot has been done, but that's boatbuilding for you!

16 September, 2017

Finally, I can tick off the heads

Heaven knows, it's taken long enough.  I will offer the usual excuses of slow execution, much head scratching, one or two steps backwards and all those coats of paint, but finally, I've have completed the fit out in the heads compartment.  Which, let us not forget, included making the composting toilet, which took more googling and tooth sucking than actual work, it has to be said.

It is surprisingly difficult to get bronze fastenings any more.  No chandler had what I wanted, I tried emailing a company in NZ, but they never replied, and Jamestown Distributors, who advertise in Wooden Boat magazine, also failed to respond to my requests for information.  In the end, as I've already mentioned, I went to Classic Marine, who gave me their usual excellent service.
As well as the fastenings for the portholes, I'd ordered turnbuttons and 'automatic buttons', made by Daveys.  I love these natty little things, and they make strong catches.  The ones Daveys make come with a wee bush that keeps them away from the frame so that they swing easily.

Here are the doors, finally fitted in the starboard shelving.  As you can see, the frames protrude

so I made little bosses for them to sit on.  To do this I used a 44mm holesaw and cut them out of tiger wood.  They were cut in two just under the screw hole and then glued onto the framework just above the door.

On the port side is the locker which will hold my brewing barrel.  Although this will be stowed at the forward end, I decided to fit an 'automatic button' here in case the barrel works its way aft and leans against the door.  (The brass door fittings can be seen in a later photo.)

The next job was to fit the finishing wood on the cabin sole.  For this I used the tigerwood, sawn into 6mm veneer, 40mm wide.  It stiffens up the 12mm ply to at least as stiff as the 18mm most people would use.  I made, fitted and finished sanding it over four days, which I think is a reasonable investment of time for something that will require no more maintenance than the occasional clean.

I decided simply to use temporary screws and plug the holes after.  Sash clamps would have been the ideal way to hold the planks down flat, but I don't have any and screws were a quick and easy way of doing it.  Drilling plugs using a drill press doesn't take a lot of time and nor, for that matter, does putting them in.

There are two hatches in the sole area, so once I had fitted the planks, I predrilled some of the screw holes, so that everything would line up properly, and then took them down to glue up on a table.

By using washers between the screw head and the wood, I can make sure that there is minimal damage, which makes final finishing a lot faster.

I put all the plugs in with aliphatic PVA, which is a lot quicker and less messy than epoxy for this sort of job.  When the glue had cured, I used my multitool to cut them off.  This worked wonderfully well - made for the job!

Once I'd finished sanding it, I gave a quick skim along the edges to fair them off a little and soften the corner.

Personally, I think it all looks rather smart.  The framing around the doors (fitted to hide my wiggly jigsaw cuts) add a spurious air of quality, heightened by the 'automatic button'.

The tigerwood will quickly become redder - judging by the offcuts kicking around the shed -  and I think makes a pleasant contrast with the kauri.  You can see the finished composter and the catches on the starboard lockers here, too.

And here is the finished composter, showing the bucket. (I had to replace the orange with a black one: the orange one ended up about 5mm too high!)  The white under the seat is the diverter.

The switch panels were sitting around getting dusty, so I thought I might as well fit those, too.

All in all, I'm rather pleased with the whole thing and more than ready to move on with something else!!