The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders

Lines in the Sand

by Alistair Wasey

"I do it every time..."

It's a well known fact that professional boatbuilders do not meet deadlines. Arthur Ransome made several allusions to the fact in "Swallowdale". Roger Wardale describes it in tortuous detail in "Nancy Blacket", Francis Chichester suffered from it in "Gypsy Moth Circles The World"; the tale is repeated elsewhere. In truth the combination of boatbuilding and deadlines is much the same as nitrocellulose and a hot day, not all together a good idea. Yet every time I start knocking a few old boats back together the old temptation creeps in: "Yeah, I'll get them done by the thirtieth." A comfortable few weeks away, plenty of time, after all it's only a bit of epoxy, a bit of sanding and a lick of paint... how long can that take? Yet every time it ends in a mad panic... you'd think I'd learn, really!

My infamous "Chickenshed" workshop, once used for factory farming chickens it has no power, water or other conveniences, but it does have a certain robust charm.

(click images for larger views)

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Every winter I leave my epoxy in the workshop on a concrete floor... every spring I wander in to do a bit of light work and share a few choice expletives with the world about the idiosyncracies of the now-frozen wonder-goop. Every year I religiously take it home and start boiling kettle after kettle to melt it out, leaving the bucket on top of the hot water boiler in the garage. Every year I shake it, take the top off, look inside, do a few test pumps and, once certain of its homogeneity, wander off to the shed to do some now slightly more urgent work... only to find that on the journey the big lump of un-frozen epoxy I couldn't see has broken up and my epoxy is once again unusable (although I have been known to epoxy things with half-frozen epoxy slurry and amazingly for the epoxy to cure perfectly adequately). Every time... you think I'd learn!

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Another boat makes it's stately progress to a new owner, on this occasion to a good friend, atop my long-suffering Hyundai.

Another of my choice foibles is the gelcoat filler marketed by Plastic Padding. On the face of it, this stuff is brilliant for the work I do. I refinish GRP rowing boats, invariably in white, which this filler is. Brilliant! That means I can fill all those annoying little gashes and holes that only appear after the undercoat has gone on, without having to do a whole extra coat! Now, I have in the past had problems with this remaining stubbornly tacky. Not perhaps a problem I thought, as I tend to use ridiculous amounts of catalyst to get it to cure quickly to save me time. Obviously I have the mix wrong. So, once again I mix a batch, being really careful to get the mix right... will it cure? Not on your life. Said gelcoat filler now resides in the bin... at last, I've learned!

Now safely delivered from it's woodworm blight, my restricted scull has come out well and may soon be travelling transatlantic having been purchased by an American businessman.

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However, in amongst all the usual mistakes, moaning-chair moments and unlearned lessons, I'm actually quite proud of myself. The boats I've been working on have been the worst I've ever had, all of them having 8 feet of the bow dislocated. I have had to realign the bows by eye and ingenuity, cut the deck off, relaminate the hull with various schedules of carbon and glassfibres, re-attach the deck (tricky given that it's a monocoque construction and if I make a mistake here the boat will just fold in half again) then fair the outside of the hull of these ultra-fine racing shells to get a high-gloss paint finish. But despite all of that, I reckon I've knocked out three of the best boats I've ever done...

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An old friend from College rowing days, Tampere is one of my re-finishing jobs, and one of which I'm rather proud.

...So when the evening sun is slanting across the cornfields outside, the epoxy's recalcitrant, the filler too tacky to sand and the deadline appearing, I often wonder why I do it; then I look at the sleek, glossy shapes on the top rack waiting to be delivered, and with a smile on my face think: "Hell, what's another evening working late at the office?"

Take care,

Alistair Wasey

Follow ups:

Readers with good memories will remember that I asked for suggestions on how to cure woodworm. A Mr. Chris Partridge of Sussex, England, was kind enough to email me pointing out that it was a bit of a no-brainer since woodworm-killer can be bought at any ironmonger's. One short shopping trip later and my boat is, touch-wood, woodworm-free.

The Brendan Voyage also sparked a bit of interest from a few correspondents, including some book suggestions, which I intend to follow up as time and budget allow. Tim Ferguson emailed me mentioning both that National Geographic had published an article on the Brendan Voyage, and also that the folk group Geese In The Bog had written a song around the story which may be read here: