Sunday, May 28, 2006

Beating the Weather

If I had wide enough access to my back lawn I would have built my Paradox sailboat there in a purpose built boat shed, but instead I’ve been forced to keep the boat in the garage on a trolley so that I can wheel her in and out between showers to give me space for building her on the driveway.

Yesterday afternoon the rain stopped, which meant I could take the two large, heavy pieces of the boat’s bottom into the house for joining together without getting them wet. The forecast indicated a dry sunny day for the bank holiday Sunday. This was the weather I was looking for, because there would be a period of 48 hours without rain – long enough for the epoxy to harden. My wife was away for the weekend, which meant I could have the house to myself without fear of impeding her movements in the lounge. By early evening I had glued the two pieces of plywood together while they were laid out on the lounge floor, the carpet suitably protected with plastic bin lining.

Last night I had a few restless moments when I fitfully woke and thought about the possibility that I may not be able to extract the glued pieces from the lounge, because together they might be too large, but my worry was unnecessary, because late Sunday afternoon I found I could easily lift the joined pieces on to their side, and by using three rollers I was able to slide them along the floor and out of the front door, where I levered them on to the upturned boat which was on her trolley. It really couldn’t have been easier.

I was rather chuffed with myself by having taken the initiative when I heard the forecast.

May of this year has been the wettest since 1983 and that would be the case to test my patience and ingenuity, since I am building my boat in the open air, but I mustn’t grumble, because I’m making good progress.

Fixing the bottom to the upturned hull will need to be done on a dry warm day and the long range forecast predicts the weather will improve over the next few days. I’m optimistically looking forward to the task.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Putting Things Right

Boat building is not like house building where most joints are at right angles or at forty five degrees, such as where bricks meet at the corners of a room or where the lintel and side frames of a door meet. Roof supports may be angled so the roof will shed water, but unless the building is very unusual there will not be many multiple curves or differing angles to test the builder, but with boat building some surfaces where they join can have variable angles such as a chine log following the curve of the hull while meeting frames or bulkheads at differing angles.

Well, it’s been my joy over the past fortnight to fix the sheer clamps and chine logs to the Paradox sailing boat I am building. Shaping them by hand while using a plane made me sweat, and when it came to forcing the chine logs into place with the aid of sash clamps a good deal of effort was needed to accomplish the task, but what a joy it was to see them in place. The next job was fitting the floor supports and water tank frames into the bottom of the boat. To make them level and in line with the chine logs transversely I used a straight edge to check them as I planed the edges that will come into contact with the bottom of the boat. There must be a good bond between them and the boat’s bottom.

Yesterday and today I fitted the baffle to the inside of the transom. It will prevent water entering the hull through the opening for the tiller and it will also act as a ventilator. Another little job I did was making the mould for the lower gudgeon and pouring the epoxy into it with loads of chopped strand matting. I was a bit surprised when it started to cure quickly because of the amount of heat generated by the chemical action during the solidification process. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to withdraw the copper tube wrapped in sticky tape which I placed in the mould to make a cylindrical hole for the pintle. If I get a good grip on it and sharply tap the gudgeon I’m hoping that will do the job. Failing that, I’ll have to heat the tube to melt the epoxy in contact with it.

In all of these and similar tasks there’s always a bit of fudging to make things right, because nothing is ever perfect and therefore it’s necessary to add a bit here or take bit off there until thing fits. There’s a saying that love can cover a multitude of sins, but the boat builder uses epoxy to hide a good many faults! Whitewash is a quick fix that covers for a little while, but good quality paint can give a really good finish to a moderate job, so there’ll be no whitewash on my boat, but plenty of epoxy and paint to put things right.

Monday, May 15, 2006


When building a boat, the sequence of events is crucial to a successful outcome, as is the case with many activities involving the putting together of materials and objects, such as when building a house, manufacturing a car or laying down a road; therefore it’s useful when the boat designer includes with his plans a sequence of construction. Matt Layden, the designer of the Paradox sailboat I’m currently building, does include such an instruction.

A flow chart drawn in preparation for building a boat could be a useful aid; for example, start with a comprehensive study of the plans to understand the building process, then note such things as: materials and tools required to complete the task; a rough timetable of when stages may be arrived at and what those stages comprise. Each stage will have its own sequence; perhaps all the small items should be built before assembling the hull, as was my course of action. Every individual item comprised of three or more parts, has to have an order of assembly; the parts themselves have to be fashioned then joined, before being protected by paint, epoxy or fibreglass.

A very useful feature of Paradox is that the sequence of building naturally flows, enabling each part to be shaped and joined to the previous ones. Get the initial parts right, then the other parts will determined by them. Measuring and checking before cutting wooden components is essential. Double checking and perhaps triple checking brings rewards, because errors are thereby avoided, saving materials and time.

I have made a few errors while building my boat, but fortunately none have been too costly in time, money or effort to put right. One thing I have become very aware of is the sequence of the building process. Get that right, the task becomes easier and building the boat is more rewarding.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Big Steps and Small Steps

Neil Armstrong, when he set foot on planet Moon said, “That’s one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind.” It was a momentous event, one of great significance, heralding the exploration of the universe by man. Some time in the future, men and women will surely walk on Mars and explore further into space.

Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin had landed their space capsule on the Sea of Tranquillity.

In our own lives we have those small steps that, in fact, accumulate to become giant leaps. There are days, hours, minutes and seconds when, with the aggregate of events, much is accomplished. For me, there was one such occasion yesterday, when after a 6 hours gluing session, my Paradox sailing boat at last resembled a real boat – albeit, without a bottom, a deck or a cabin. Until that moment to the untutored eye she would have been nothing more than a collection unrelated articles.

Figuratively speaking, for the boat builder, the process of building a vessel is a series of small steps, which, when linked together, become giant leaps, until finally, there are no more leaps and the boat is finished. Then, like the American astronauts when they touched down on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquillity, the boat builder can triumphantly declare, “The Eagle has landed.”