The Boatbuilders Diary Part 1

”BONITA”  a Victorian Veteran

Monday, 14th January

It snowed overnight, not what I was hoping for as we have to haul out a rather nice gaff yawl called "Bonita" today. She is moored in a mud berth in the next door boatyard and we have to move her up to our slipway as the tide is making. But first we must get the slipway trolley out of the work shop and onto the slipway, having first adjusted the legs to suit the beam of the vessel.

Our slip uses an electric winch that is situated at the inner end of the work shop. We alter the purchase of the wire according to the size and weight of the vessel in question, this time 4:1 is about right; this is arranged by using a 2:1 with a burton. Teaching the apprentices how to rig these purchases sometimes seems like trying to teach someone to swim in mud but eventually it sinks in (even if it's all forgotten by next time!). That's slightly unfair as they do remember eventually.

Last Friday the boys washed of the slipway to clear it of the never ending supply of mud that is deposited by every tide. This is about half an inch every twenty four hours, so its not unusual to have shift about thirty inches of mud, this is done using a high pressure pump, supplied by a pipe drawing water from the centre of the creek. As this never dries out we can work at low water.

At tide time the owner turned up and offered to move the boat to save us some time, so while he uncovered and moved the boat we lowered the trolley down. When the boat arrived the owner misjudged the strength of the tide and missed the turn in and finished up almost ramming the yacht moored up tide of the slip! With a bit of brute force and ignorance we managed to get him back in line with the slipway and into the waiting trolley. Once the trolley is pulled clear of the water the hull is washed clean of weed and barnacles and the boat is blocked up to await pulling into the workshop the following day. We remove the winch wire to allow us to slide the big doors closed as it is by now raining quite well!

Whilst all this was going on, other work is taking place on some of the other yachts we have in the workshop, these range from 21 feet to 32 feet in length.

Tuesday, 15th

More snow overnight, but it turned to rain so most of it has gone by the time we get to work at 07.30. Kettle on, and wood stove alight in the Joinery Workshop, and then it's time to rig the winch wire to pull "Bonita" into the shed, after which we move the gantry into position to allow the trolley to be pulled back outside and the door once again shut to keep the wind out.

"Bonita" has come in to have some refastening carried out prior to joining the Old Gaffers Association Round Britain Rally this coming spring.

She was built way back in 1888 by Crossfield Bros. in Arnside, eighteen years after the launching of the "Cutty Sark". Built with a very distinctive clipper bow, she has an overall length of 34.5ft and a beam of 8.5ft with a draft of 4ft. The stern is elliptical, very typical of that era, as is the round after end of the cockpit coamings and the round front end of the cabin coamings.

Wednesday, 16th

We started burning off the paintwork to allow us to find the position of the frames ready for the extra fixings to be put in. We found that the planking of Pitch Pine is in excellent condition, whilst the framing of oak is a mixture of sawn and steamed, not the usual two steamed and a sawn, but eight sawn, from forward, then four steamed, followed by one sawn, followed by four more steamed through to the stern where the last seven are all sawn frames.

Stripping the PaintStripping the Paint

All the sawn frames are iron spike fastened, and the steamed are all copper riveted on roves. The owner tells me that his father owned the vessel from the thirties and that she has had no planking repairs carried out in their ownership. Work continued on both port and starboard sides at the same time.

Thursday, 17th

The new main bulkhead on the four ton Hillyard yacht "Waterwitch" continues to take shape, along with new cockpit lockers and seats. On "Bonita" the refastening continues whilst the boys are starting to burn off the paint around the stern section. The aim is to strip, refasten, and prime each section as we progress, so no wood is left bare longer than can be helped, the reason for this is that she is tight seam built, with no caulking between the planks, so we do not want any drying out to take place.

We removed the bottom rudder hanging from the end of the keel so that can be worked to make good some wasting along the bottom plate, this can then be re-galvanised prior to re-fitting.

Friday, 18th

The forward sections are finished being fastened, so they have received a coat of metallic based wood primer, whilst work continues on the aft end. The mid ship section is the last to be stripped of paint, as there are not many frames to be refastened in this area.  We found that almost all planks are full length, with only two butts on each side. The vessel was originally built as a racing cutter with no cabin top or accommodation, this being added in about 1907/8 when she was about 20 years old; this quite possibly is the reason she is in such good condition now as the change to a much smaller rig early in her life has resulted in less strain. This may also be due to the rigging being set up with lanyards and not rigging screws.

Monday, 21st

Just the mid ship section to fasten now, and by end of the day we have got through almost 850 bronze screws, a mixture of two inch fourteen gauge and two and a half and three inch sixteens. All the screws are being filled with red lead putty, as are all the original fixings so all holes are given a good coat of primer, prior to the hull being primed all over. Whilst all this is going on, we have had the tree surgeon in to cut down two thirty five foot poplar trees in the yard that had become diseased and died off. These were ringed up into about ten inch slices and Tim and the two boys will split these up for logs for the work shop stove, in all about nine tons of timber. That should give us about two winters worth of heat!

Tuesday, 22nd

Before we begin painting we must this morning re-scribe the waterline which has been marked with copper tacks spaced at about one foot intervals. We now favour using the Fein tool with a small saw blade to produce a nice clean line to paint to.

The Sterling class sloop we have in the workshop is having its new mouldings fitted; these are of mahogany, and are being fitted around the deck to coaming join and the cabin top to coamings following quite extensive repairs to the sheathing on both cabin top and deck.

This morning I had to drive over to the shot blasters to get some iron work cleaned up ready to go to the galvanisers later this week. We only get this done when we can make up enough to exceed the minimum order or the price is exorbitant.

Wednesday, 23rd

Work continues on the preparation for painting on "Bonita". She is to receive two coats of metallic primer, two of white undercoat and two white top coats above the water line, and two coats of "Metaclor" primer and two of antifouling below the waterline.

Our electrician has almost finished the wiring on the little Humber Yawl "Eel" after major restoration including a new keel, new sawn frames and a new deck.

Humber Yawl 'Eeel'

This boat is almost as old as "Bonita", being built in 1896 in Norfolk for George Holmes. When she leaves us she is returning to the place of her birth, to sail on the Broads.

Thursday, 24th

This morning we're rigged the endless chain blocks for the mast rack that had been away for their annual test (we use four 500kg units spaced along the length of the fifty foot rack, which is 2 feet deep and 14 feet high and will hold up to fifty spars). At least it's a bit warmer at the moment, and we have been able to have the big sliding door at the creek end of the shed open, although they are talking about more snow at the weekend!

Young Ben, one of our trainees, has been re glazing the notice board that lives on the outside of one of the big sliding doors along the creek front. This had its glass broken by the local kids a couple of weeks ago, so this time we have used Lexan instead

Friday, 25th

Yesterday it was windy, this morning it is raining quite hard, so it's get the wood stove alight first, got to get the priorities right! Then the first coffee of the day! Now down to the sanding and preparation of the topsides on "Bonita".   The owner came in recently and was well pleased with progress and is itching to get back into the water soon.


As soon as we get her back in the water we have a thirty six foot motor sailor to get in for repairs to the rail capping and re-paint the hull ready for the coming season, and another yacht waiting for a new galley to be fitted before the spring!! Time flies when you are having fun!!

Monday, 28th

Another coat of paint on "Bonita" and while this is happening, the first coat of varnish is going onto the cockpit of the Sterling class "Marlin". This class of yacht is very like the ever popular Twister class. It was very interesting a few weeks ago, when we had one of these boats alongside "Marlin". She was in to have a new cabin top built after the original laminated beams, fitted in way of the mast, gave up and allowed the deck in way of the mast to sag down by three quarters of an inch, the laminations having all parted company through glue failure (probably Cascomite one shot dating from the '60s when she was built). The cabin tops on these vessels were laminated on a mould and then fitted to the hull with only three deck beams in way of the mast and two fore and aft members running from the main hatchway, forward to the beams below the mast. New beams necessitated the removal of a portion of the cabin top for access, this then of course had to be re-built using three layers of  four millimeter plywood, covered with glass cloth and epoxy resin.

Tuesday, 29th

I received a call today asking for a valuation for probate on a yacht that I surveyed six years ago. It had apparently been sold since then and now the lady who bought it has died and the family want to keep it, so in the afternoon it's a trip up to Chatham Maritime Marina on the Medway to have a look. Unfortunately the galvanising we are having done is not ready, otherwise I could have picked it up on my way back to Faversham!
The top sides on "Bonita" have been filled and sanded and are now being undercoated.

In Faversham each year we have a Maritime Festival, and when I got back from Chatham, Lena, the lady who organises it, came to see me and find out if we are going to take a stand again this year. Last year we made a flag mast for the Dinghy Store chandlery based in Whitstable, and showed the restored dinghy that I took to SBS the other year. I now have to decide what we can do this year, there is no doubt in my mind that doing something brings more people to talk to you on the stand - decisions, decisions!!

Wednesday, 30th

I need to spend a good part of the day in the office catching up with the ordering of materials; today its timber, Douglas fir, Sitka spruce and try and find some Elm for planking for a virtual rebuild of a Deal beach boat, in fact the last Deal boat to be built to work off that stretch of beach.

We also need abrasive paper roll and Velcro backed discs, once this is done there are drawings to be completed for the fabrication works for a set of stainless steel fittings for a set of sheer legs for mast lowering for a motor sailor that is off this spring through the French inland waterways and the owner wants to be able to raise and lower the two masts with just him and his wife on board. However the sheer legs must be able to stow on the cabin top that is only seven and a half feet long, whilst the legs need to be fourteen feet long!!

Thursday, 31st

Hospital appointment this morning so the boys will have to manage on their own until I get back! But they are quite capable and I know I can leave them to it! On the way back I call in to see the accountant, and then back to the yard just after lunch, in time to answer some e-mails and see the rep who has an appointment to see me at 15.00.

Friday, 1st February

The last coat of undercoat to do on "Bonita" today then it can have the weekend to harden off ready for top coating.

The cockpit and cabin sides on the Sterling class yacht are nearing completion now and it is looking very smart, hopefully the owner will be down to have a look next week as we need a decision about the colour of the topsides, and the deck paint for both the deck and cabin top. And you can be sure that the owner will want a colour that has been discontinued!

The Met. Office keep talking about more snow over the weekend, I do hope they are wrong! I was supposed to be doing a survey today but it has been cancelled as the owner cannot get down, and the boat is locked. To be honest, I would sooner the owner was not present as all they do is interrupt and get in the way!! And that just makes the job take twice as long. I always use a little digital recorder on these jobs, but when the owners keep asking you questions it plays hell with the recording and it is often difficult to say piss off politely! I do not do a lot of these surveys, I suppose it works out about one every eight working days, anyway lets hope Monday is not snowy!

Monday, 4th

Well I sure got that wrong! About an inch of snow when I woke up this morning, but the roads are wet so it's not freezing. I am first at the yard today, I expect there is more snow in Whitstable and Herne Bay where some of the others come from. Alison is the next to arrive as she can walk from home in town. Ben lives a little out of the town so he drives, he will be a bit late as he will need to clear the snow off his car. The next to arrive is Sean who comes by train from Gillingham, if he is late it is due to the trains being delayed. Kettle on and the fire alight by 07.35 not bad at all!

I am not disappointed to learn that the owner who wants the survey will not be coming down! Yes, a result!! He has left a key with the yard next door so I can do the job in peace!

On "Bonita" the boys are lightly sanding the top sides in preparation for the top coats. It keeps on trying to snow all day so I decide to do the survey tomorrow when hopefully the snow will have stopped.

Tuesday, 5th

Minor panic when the yard next door says that they do not have the key for the survey job, a phone call to the owner solves the crisis and the key is found! So I can get on with that job whilst the others crack on with the painting and moving another boat that the sail loft are coming to fit a new winter cover on today. I had looked briefly at the survey job last year, just before Christmas and told the owner to get the so-called shipwrights that had been employed doing work on her, back to re-do some of the jobs, things like plank fastenings with no roves on, just left sticking out, a section of new plank next to an old plank that was so rotten you could push a finger through it. There were also repairs to deck sheathing that had virtually no epoxy on, so that the glass cloth was still soft and pliable, and a bilge rail that had been repaired with pieces let in along its bottom edge, and you could push a pricker into the old timber right up to the handle!  He got them back and I went over the problems with them and they reluctantly agreed to put right the problems. When you see things like this it gives one very little confidence in the other work that had been carried out. Needless to say the company who did the work will not get far if they ever apply for membership with WBTA!!

Wednesday, 6th

Bitter cold today and the fire in the workshop decided to have difficult day and just refused to stay alight at first! Tim has the best job today making paneled doors up for the companion way on the four ton Hillyard, he is in the warm!! So is Dave who is making up some small pieces of joinery for the Humber yawl "Eel". When the weather is a bit better we will get "Eel" out of the shed and get her rigged ready to launch.

Humber Yawl 'Eel'

I am sure there will be lots of little rigging niggles to sort out as this will be the first time she has been rigged since 1988!!  We did a lot of work on her back in 1990 and took her to the Wooden Boat Show at Greenwich, then her owner went to work abroad and left her at the yard in storage. This went on for some time, then with no explanation the cheques for storage ceased. We wrote to the owner and got no reply. We even got someone to call at his apartment in New York, no one knew where he had gone, and it seems he had just vanished into thin air! We contacted his last known employer and they couldn't help, he had left them to go and work in another country, almost certainly Zambia, as he worked in the mining industry and at that time there was a lot of work to be had there. Meanwhile "Eel" was deteriorating even though we kept a cover over her. Eventually after going through the legal requirements we sold her to cover the accrued debts (Sale of Uncollected Goods Act). We were asked to repair and restore her by the new owner who fully appreciated the special piece of history which "Eel" is. (Designed by George Holmes, built in 1896 and sailed by Albert Strange and George Holmes).

"Bonita" received her second coat of antifouling paint today and is beginning to look a bit smart!

Thursday, 7th

Thankfully not so cold this morning but is pouring with rain! This means that all the boats will be covered in condensation, so there will be no painting today. This is the price we pay for having a workshop right beside the creek, sometimes it is very damp in the big shed. By lunchtime the sun is out and the temperature starts to rise.

The owner of the Sterling class phoned this morning to confirm the colours for the topsides deck and cabin top, so we can get that ordered, the only problem will be that the colour for the topsides has been discontinued!! Unless I can find some one with old stock.

Work continues on "Eel fixing the stem band, and rudder hangings.  The local sail loft are leathering the gammon irons for both "Eel" and the Hillyard, these fittings were amongst the iron work we had galvanised the other week, so when they come back they can be fitted in place.

I had an interesting phone call today asking what I knew about T section booms. Apparently the Stella Class Association are amending some of the class rules and one of the changes is to allow these as the original solid plank booms bend too much, shades of the Park Avenue boom!

Friday, 8th

A much better morning, just like spring! All the boats are dry today. Start the day with an hour or so in the office answering e-mails, one from our Dutch customer saying that he will be at the yard at Easter weekend to work on his yacht "Priscilla", and that in the meantime he will be on his other yacht "Mangareva" going through the Panama Canal. Like "Priscilla", "Mangareva" is a Dallimore Design but somewhat larger. He purchased her in San Francisco and is sailing her back whenever he can get away. He has booked her in here at the yard for a new deck during the winter of 2016 after the last leg of the trip from the Azores!! Interestingly both "Priscilla" and "Mangareva" were built at the same yard - Harry King and Sons of  Pin Mill, as was my own yacht "Tasia".

First job of the day is to get a coat of primer on the bottom of "Eel", then it's the first top coat on "Bonita" and the final coat of varnish on the toe rail on the Sterling class. Dennis, our engineer and electrician, has got the mast head light on "Eel's" mast, so that is almost ready to try in the tabernacle, just the plug to go on the end of the cable.