Getting Organised (or not)

I’ve become aware that this blog could become intensely boring* if I’m not careful – so any suggestions from my reader(s?) would be welcomed. The handbook on blogs says I shoud engage with my readership, not to mention commodify my blog. I vaguely know what the first of these means but making it a commodity? Perhaps I should fashion and market a nifty line in woodworking tools, or articulate and publish the 10 useful habits of amatur boat builders that I could subsequently self publish in a useful hand book, delightfully illustrated and the knock down price of 20.99 USD (delivery extra). How about some plywood boat building leisure wear, pre coated with a generous layer of sawdust and epoxy resin to a random (and different) design on each item so that each one becomes a unique collectors item?

I think not. But keep the ideas coming!

Or a readers question and answer session.

Martijn from Holland asks why I’m building the thing** out of plywood and not using ‘conventional’ lapstrake method rather than using stitch and glue?

He then, helpfully, provides the answer “It takes a bit more woodworking skills (and time) in the early stage, but you’ll make partially up for that since the amount of fairing and sanding in the later stage is reduced.”

Martijn, you have hit the nail squarely on the head. *** I have to admit that my woodworking skills are rudimentry – I can hold a saw in the right way and can use a chisel and a plane but I’ve never made a decent cabinet making joint in my life, let alone a scarf joint for a length of wood. OK, I did spend 12 weeks of my life learning how to file pieces of metal flat, square and parallel but that was a long time ago, in a workshop far away. **** There is a physical reminder of this period:

The Michelin dice! Circa 1963

But I digress. Before I could start I had to get organised. Firstly, a chimney for the fire. Ebay and Gumtree were scoured and observed for several weeks and eventually the right parts materialised. There were even a few feet of suitable stove pipe in the bulders junk in the other end of the shed. Brickes were needed to hold the stove up and then we had the trial lighting up. The shed filled with smoke. I’d left the damper on the chimney shut. Then it rained and, with the exception of today (28th December), it seems to have done so ever since. I had to source cowl for the chimney – I had some sheet aluminium lying about at home so was able to make a crude conical device – but it seems to work.

Then a stock of firewood was needed. How much could I beg or steal? The Owners Agent and I have become observers of building sites and skips – no waste wood or unused pallet is safe….An electric chain saw was acquired.

The trailer was unloaded and the various sheets of plywood were examined. It’s like a big Airfix kit – each sheet has various parts on it, cut out with little tabs holding them in the sheet. Two minutes work with the electric jig saw releases each part – perfectly formed. In fact,one lifts a sheet too impetuosly the parts release themselves. The sheets were stacked on a couple of pallets and left in a corner of the shop.

The centreboard and part of the rudder

We were almost ready to go.


* Or for nerds only

** Help, I need to think a name for this boat

*** As far as I know, there will be no physical assault on nails during the upcoming build procedure.

**** Not in another Galaxy – sorry Star Wars fans – but Stoke on Trent, when it boasted of Stanley Matthews and a steel works or two.

Looking for a boat shed in Buckinghamshire

So far, my regular reader will know that, having sold Riff Raff, my Swallow Yachts BC23, because I was too unbalanced* to sail her any more, I’ve been pursuing the idea of building a smaller boat – a simple one with but one sail and as few bits of string to control it as possible. And one that I could make using sheets of plywood and the pre – historic method of construction – stich and glue. Although I intended to use cable ties for the stiches and Epoxy resin as the glue.

The project, codenamed Yellowhammer to reflect the UK political mood of the late summer of 2019, looked like it had fallen off it’s perch. The design was more or less finished and the CNC machine programmed to cut the plywood but I had no where to build her.

The Owers Agent and i had “downsized” from our Edwardian family home to a 1960’s “town house” at the start of my attempt to sail round Britain ( see ). This “new” house boasts an integral “double garage” which would just about contain two early mini’s ** so there was no hope of building it in there. Besides which, as the Owners Agent remarked, ‘just think of all the dust’.

Whilst Boris was negotiating with the EU, and Jeremy was sitting in the fence, I spent over a month looking for small workshop in the local area. It’s surprising how many little “industrial estates” exist in apparently agricultural buildings. They’re mostly car repairers of one sort or another, with the occasional woodworker or other craftsman. But they are all full. Having tracked down the owner of each place (and that wasn’t easy, for reasons best known to themselves) the usual anwer was “No mate, sorry we’re full”. ***

I hadn’t thought to talk with the owner of the barn where I had stored Vagabond – i knew his places were all used for agriculture. But one day I bumped into him and took the opportunity to explain my predicament. ****

He said he might have something suitable and took me to see it:

And this was after the jungle had been cleared from nearby.

It wasn’t exactly prepossessing on the outside but there was space inside that seemed to be out of the rain. It had been (variously) a chicken breeding barn, a calf raising shed (fitted out the Min of Ag specification circa 1960) and a storage place of the various junk that a large building firm acquires during 20 years trading. It was now going to be a boat shed.

After a little negotiation during which I was able to ensure that the sliding doors almost closed, and electricity would be available and the space would be cleared I agreed to take posession from the end of October. There was no heating – but the landlord put my in touch with a useful source of pre owned (sorrt pre-loved) wood burning stoves….

The larger junk was pushed to one side and I got to work, removing about 50mm****** of various layers of unspecified detritus from the floor and installing the stove (the chimney was fitted later). I even painted the concrete floor in an attempt to reduce the dust. 


The space was, if anything, too big and there were far too many drafts and sources of rubbish, so I built a tent within the space, using cheap(ish) tarpaulins. Lighting and power was installed by the landlord and he personally did the brickwork to make the doors work. An ACROPROP was generously supplied to improve the structural stabiltiy at the west end. The result became quite acceptable (in my eyes).

The Tent – with triple folding doors!

Just in time, too, for the plywood had been cut. Martina took me west to the coast of Wales to collect my flat pack boat (and another trailer). We sped homeward, with Martina hadly noticing the load (a little different to the journeys towing Terence with Riff Raff or Vagabond on board): the trailer was nudged through the doorway of the boatshed and that of the tent and I was ready to start.



* Physically, that is. You, the lone reader is free to judge my condition regarding other forms of balance!

** But only if you got out of them and pushed them into it with the car doors shut .

*** One such entrepreneur told me he’d keep my phone on file and call me if one of his tenants retired or died.

**** when I got the opportunity, after he’d told me how the Irish were dumping cows on Britain before Brexit happened and how he could’t get a good price on his cattle as a consequence.

***** 2 inches for any transatlantic readers

Early winter blues – part the second*

The evenings are now really drawing in: sunset in suburban Buckinghamshire is now around a quarter past four. Plenty of time in the evening to contemplate next summer, or even do something in preparation for it.

My loyal reader may rember my last post – as well as blethering on about crossing the North Sea, I mentioned projects not quite forgotten. Come on – it was in the first paragraph….

I had mentioned that I was thinking about building a boat and a half size Swallow Bay raider seemed a good idea. Would the yacht designer from Cardigan let me have a set? This was not rejected out of hand but deftly turned (by him) into another design project and voer the course of a couple of evenings in a bar, some “homework” and several phone calls, the self build project emerged. It just so happened that the Yacht designer was thinking of a tender for his yard….

The design was more or less finalised at the Southampton boat show:


A little Lug sail dinghy – water ballasted, of course, with a carbon fibre mast and yard but a wooden boom (so, as he said) you can mount more stuff on  it. Just under 5 metres long, with an open well** before the mast for anchors and the like and some sort of “electric” pod in another well forward of the rudder.  Quite how this pod could be lifted from the water when not is use was left vague – another problem for me to solve at a later date.

After some persuasion, the rudder was configured to be vertical and mounted on pintles rather than bolted to the transom.  A lifting centreboard, a well just aft of it where the water ballast would both flood in and flood out. Oars (now that’s a novelty for me) and precious little storage so a day sailer……Expected weight – less than 200Kg. By now the project had been given a code word – “yellow hammer” – no relation to that envisaged by Boris and his team.

I was expecting plans and lots of jig saw work but no – software and NC milling machines would make light work of cutting the panels out of 6mm ply.

“I think it best to start with a model” – no problem – at set of bits at 1 inch to the foot arrived in the post a few days latter and I spent a happy hour or two working out which bit was what:


The bottom, side planks, various bulkheads and the deck were pretty easy to spot but what on earth were the two parts that I’d marked up as W in the picture? ***

Another happy few hours were spent using instant glue to stick the model and my fingers together**** and a rough version of most of the boat took shape.20191006_175754

After further discussion with the designer a deal was struck – he’d provide me a set of full size parts and it just happened that he had a second hand trailer for sale – but, it was emphasized, Swallow Yachts is NOT returning to its roots in the marketing and sale of kits.

A delivery date was set for October – but where was I going to build it? What about at home – in the1970’s sized double garage. 

Even when cleared out of rubbish, tools and the general storage of stuff that you keep after you have “downsized” a pair of 1960’s minis would only just about fit. It wasn’t long enough!

So was the whole project stymied from the start? Had Yellow hammer failed to fly?


* an old Goon show mis-use of an ordinal number where normal practice is to use a cardinal number **

** I think there would be some diy added here, otherwise everything will fail out when the inevitable capsise occurs.

*** It turns out that they are formers to bend the transom into shape

**** I’m obviously in training for participating in Extinction rebellion events.